Kerry warns Israel settlements threaten Mideast peace
WASHINGTONU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Dec. 28 said Israel’s building of settlements on occupied land was jeopardizing Middle East peace, voicing unusually frank frustration with America’s longtime ally weeks before he is due to leave office.
In a swiftly issued statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Kerry of bias. He said Israel did not need to be lectured to by foreign leaders and looked forward to working with President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to pursue more pro-Israeli policies.
In a 70-minute speech, Kerry said Israel “will never have true peace” with the Arab world if it does not reach an accord based on Israelis and Palestinians living in their own states.
Kerry’s remarks, and Netanyahu’s reply, marked the closing chapter of a bitter U.S.-Israeli relationship during U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration over differences on settlement-building and the Iran nuclear deal signed last year.
Ties reached a low point Dec. 23 when Washington cleared the way for a U.N. resolution that demanded an end to Israeli settlement building, prompting Israeli government officials to direct harsh attacks against Obama and Kerry.
“Despite our best efforts over the years, the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy,” Kerry said at the State Department. “We cannot, in good conscience, do nothing, and say nothing, when we see the hope of peace slipping away.”
The United States had appealed to Israel in public and private to stop the march of settlements countless times, Kerry said.
“In the end, we could not in good conscience protect the most extreme elements of the settler movement as it tries to destroy the two-state solution,” he said. “We could not in good conscience turn a blind eye to Palestinian actions that fan hatred and violence. It is not in U.S. interests to help anyone on either side create a unitary state.”
His parting words were unlikely to change anything on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians or salvage the Obama administration’s record of failed Middle East peace efforts.
“For over an hour, Kerry obsessively dealt with settlements and barely touched upon the root of the conflict -- Palestinian opposition to a Jewish state in any boundaries,” said Netanyahu.
In a statement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he was convinced peace with Israel was achievable, but stood by his demand that Israel halt settlements before talks restart.
Netanyahu, for whom settlers are a key constituency, has said his government has been their greatest ally since Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a 1967 war. Some 570,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, together home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians.
Trump said Israel was being treated “very, very unfairly,” maintaining that countries that are “horrible places” never get reprimanded.
He refused to directly answer a question about whether Israel should stop building settlements, saying he is “very, very strong on Israel.”
Trump said Israel is “up for 20 reprimands” at the United Nations, whereas nations that are “horrible places, that treat people horribly, haven’t even been reprimanded.”
Trump tweeted earlier on Dec. 28 that Israel should “stay strong,” saying Jan. 20, 2017, the inauguration day, “is fast approaching!”