NEW YORK - Fringe elements of an historically right-wing government in Israel are pushing the nation toward annexation of the West Bank, intentionally eroding the viability of a Palestinian state through its settlement enterprise with the goal of creating an "irreversible one-state reality," US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.
In a speech billed by US officials as the secretary's comprehensive vision for peace between the two peoples, Kerry spoke for over an hour from the State Department of his commitment to Israel's longterm security as a Jewish and democratic state. As he has stated in the past, Kerry warned that future is in grave jeopardy.
"There really is no viable alternative" to a two-state solution, Kerry said. But "the settler agenda is defining the future of Israel, and their stated purpose is clear. They believe in one state: greater Israel."
"Separate and unequal is what you would have, and no one can explain how that works," he warned.
Kerry offered some criticism for the Palestinian Authority, as well, lamenting its glorification of terrorism on official media channels. But most of his speech focused on Israel's entrenchment in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where he accused government officials of orchestrating a strategy to kill the two-state solution.
He specifically criticized a bill under consideration in the Knesset that would effectively legalize settlement outposts in the West Bank, applying Israeli civilian law in the territory for the first time— a "major step toward annexation," he warned.
"The status quo is leading towards one state and perpetual occupation," Kerry stated. "The truth is that trends on the ground – violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation – they are combining to destroy hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want."
"Trends indicate a comprehensive effort to take the West Bank land for Israel and prevent any Palestinian development there," he said. "Now leaders of the settler movement have advanced unprecedented new legislation that would legalize most of those outposts. For the first time, it would apply Israeli domestic law to the West Bank rather than military law, which is a major step towards the process of annexation."
Kerry warned that, if the occupation becomes permanent, the PA would simply dissolve and turn over all the administrative and security responsibilities to the Israelis.
"What would happen then? Who would administer the schools and hospitals and on what basis?," he asked. "Does Israel want to pay for the billions of dollars of lost international assistance that the Palestinian Authority now receives? Would the Israel Defense Force police the streets of every single Palestinian city and town?"
"How would Israel respond to a growing civil rights movement from Palestinians, demanding a right to vote, or widespread protests and unrest across the West Bank? How does Israel reconcile a permanent occupation with its democratic ideals? How does the U.S. continue to defend that and still live up to our own democratic ideals?"
"Nobody has ever provided good answers to those questions," he continued, "because there aren’t any."
He slammed Israel's approval of settlements closer to the Jordanian border than to its own, and the government's failure to offer the PA reciprocal rights to build on land that, under any scheme, would be Palestinian territory under a two-state solution.
"If more and more settlers are moving in to the Palestinian areas, it's going to be that much harder to separate," he said, adding: "Settlement expansion has nothing to do with Israeli security."
Kerry, who in 2013 and 2014 attempted to restart direct talks between the two sides, offered several US principles that he said would enshrine such a solution, including a reemphasis of international support for two states for two peoples— one Jewish and one Arab; the outlining of secure and recognizable borders for a "contiguous" Palestinian state; a "fair and just" settlement for Palestinian refugees consistent with the recognition Israel as a Jewish state; and an end to all claims, including a final resolution on the status of Jerusalem.
Kerry delivered his concluding argument on Middle East peace less than a week after the Obama administration infuriated Israel by abstaining from a vote at the UN Security Council condemning its settlement enterprise, thus allowing the vote to pass. Israel has concluded that the outgoing president "colluded" to bring the measure to a vote, secretly encouraging it.
But the secretary rejected this characterization, insisting that the US had not pushed for the resolution. He did acknowledge, however, that the US indicated to partners that it would not oppose a resolution that was "balanced and fair."
"In literally hundreds of conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I have made clear that continued settlement activity would only increase pressure for an international response. We have all known for some time that the Palestinians were intent on moving forward in the UN with a settlements resolution, and I advised the prime minister repeatedly that further settlement activity only invited UN action. Yet the settlement activity just increased," he said.
"In the end," he continued, "we could not in good conscience protect the most extreme elements of the settler movement as it tries to destroy the two-state solution. We could not in good conscience turn a blind eye to Palestinian actions that fan hatred and violence."
About 90 minutes after Kerry's speech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a response in front of the cameras, in both Hebrew and then English, calling the speech a “big disappointment.”
He said that Kerry obsessively deals with settlements in Israel, “instead of dealing with the root of the conflict: the stubborn and continued refusal of the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state in any borders.”
Netanyahu said that he was “surprised” that this was what the secretary of state of the biggest power on earth had to focus on for an hour as the Middle East is going up in flames, entire countries are collapsing, and terrorism is running wild.
“For a full hour, the secretary of state attacked the only democracy in the Middle East, that preserves the stability in the Middle East, not only for our citizens _-- Jews and Arabs alike – but also contributes to the stability and security in our region, and for many many of our neighbors.”
Netanyahu slammed Kerry for making a “false moral equation” between building a home in Jerusalem or its suburbs, and terrorism that attacks innocent civilians.
Referring to the time Kerry devoted in his speech to the settlements, he said that after making the false equation between homes and terrorism, he speaks only about the home in Jerusalem, and “pays lip service alone to condemnation of terrorism.”
“In the UN resolution that he initiated and moved forward, there they talk only about anonymous incitement, we don't know whose it is,” he said. “The settlements are Israel’s the incitement is out there, we don't know whose it is.”
If the administration had invested as much energy in fighting Palestinians terror as in condemning building in jerusalem, perhaps there would be a better chance in moving peace forward.
Switching to English, Netanyahu said that Israel would not be “swayed by mistaken policies that have caused great, great damage. Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders.”
Israel believes that direct negotiations are the only way to make peace with the Palestinians, he said, adding that this has also always been America's policy as well.
“Secretary of State Kerry said that the United States cannot vote against its own policy, but that is exactly what it did at the UN,” he charged.
Netanyahu said that Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Donald Trump and both parties in Congress to “mitigate the damage the [UN] resolution has done, and ultimately to repeal it.”
Netanyahu said that Israel hopes that the outgoing administration will prevent any further moves in the UN in its waning days.
He said he was not comforted by Kerry's comments that the US would not bring any more resolutions to the UN. “That is what they said about this resolution. We have it on absolutely incontestable evidence that the United States organized, advanced and brought this resolution to the United Nations Security Council,” he said, refuting denials that Kerry made in his speech.
President-elect Donald Trump weighed in to the diplomatic crisis once again on Wednesday, criticizing the White House for its treatment of Israel over the course of the last eight years.
"We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect," the president-elect tweeted, noting both Resolution 2334 as well as the Obama administration's role in brokering an international nuclear deal with Iran. "Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!"
Toward the end of his speech, Kerry acknowledged that the incoming administration has indicated it would work to reverse decades of bipartisan US policy opposed to Israel's settlement enterprise.
"That is for them to decide," Kerry said. "This is a time to stand up for what is right."The full transcript of Kerry's speech is available on the US Department of State website