WASHINGTON -- US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a rare, unfiltered rebuke of Israeli and Palestinian leadership on Saturday, questioning their commitment to peace and warning of a stark future for both peoples.
In the speech, to the Brookings Insititution's annual Saban Forum examining relations between the US and Israel, the secretary warned of a collapse of the Palestinian Authority and said that Israel's continued settlement activity suggested a government design for "unilateral annexation" of the West Bank.
He even condemned the diplomats, scholars and politicians present for "pretending" that the status quo was sustainable for either party. "We have to be honest about what a one-state solution would actually look like," he said.
Kerry, who led an unsuccessful negotiation between the parties in 2013 and 2014, equally distributed his criticism, asking why PA President Mahmoud Abbas had thus far failed to condemn a wave of stabbings and vehicular attacks against Israeli civilians by Palestinians over the last two months. And he condemned PA efforts to unilaterally isolate Israel at the United Nations as a fateful mistake.
"How would that bring them closer to peace?," Kerry asked, in front of a crowd that included several members of Israel's political leadership. "Isn't it the Palestinian people who would then suffer most? Do they really believe that boycotts and efforts to delegitimize Israel, or passing biased resolutions in international bodies, are going to help them achieve a Palestinian state?"
"Are Palestinian officials really doing everything possible to prevent all forms of incitement?," he continued. "Don't these terrorist attacks against innocent civilians deserve public condemnation? And how can Israelis be assured that the Palestinians are truly prepared to end the conflict and allow them to live in peace as part of a two-state solution? How do they address Israel's concerns about not creating another situation like Gaza in the West Bank?"
But Kerry also warned against a future Israel, without the foundation of a Palestinian state, featuring "segregated roads" controlled by a Jewish minority.
While acknowledging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's commitment to the sustenance of the Palestinian Authority— the alternative, he said, is an abyss— Kerry criticized those in Israel who suggest a collapse of the authority might be in Israel's interests.
"There are valid questions as to how long the PA will survive if the current situation continues," he said, noting the 30,000 Palestinian security forces maintaining order in the West Bank. Those forces, he said, secured calm throughout Israel's wars with Gaza in past years— a role that would require tens of thousands of IDF soldiers in future conflicts should the PA dissolve.
"Mark my words," he added, followed by a long pause in the room. He warned of over $1 billion in new costs Israel would shoulder providing the West Bank with basic social services alone.
"The truth is that many of those arguing against the PA simply don't believe in two states," Kerry said.
"How does Israel possibly maintain its character as a Jewish and democratic state, when from the river to the sea, there would not even be a Jewish majority?," he asked. "Would millions of Palestinians be given the basic rights of Israeli citizens, including the right to vote? Or would they be relegated to a permanent underclass?"
While he said that Israel's settlement building was "absolutely" not an excuse for violence, Kerry said it calls into question Israel's actual commitment to the peace process.
"The one state solution is not a solution at all," he said. "It is simply not a viable option."
Kerry's warnings – which suggest an urgency within the administration to resume negotiations – come just one month after White House officials declared defeat in their efforts to forge a two-state solution
during the remainder of Barack Obama's presidency.
In the speech, at the Willard Hotel in Washington, Kerry offered some hope: The prospect of a region-wide peace between Israel and Arab nations, with the opening of embassies and full economic relations. "As recently as in the last month," he said, Arab nations have privately reissued their support for the Arab Peace Initiative, which puts forth a framework for two states.