US Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Wednesday that the future of a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict was in jeopardy, saying the United States could not stay silent as violence and Israeli settlement building risked undermining peace.
In a speech just weeks before the Obama administration hands over power to President-elect Donald Trump, 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.
“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 truth is that trends on the ground – violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation – are destroying hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want.”
Kerry condemned Palestinian violence which he said included “hundreds of terrorist attacks in the past year.”
His parting words are 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.
The Israelis are looking past President Barack Obama and expect they will receive more favourable treatment from Trump, who takes office on January 20. The Republican used his Twitter account on Wednesday to denounce the Obama administration, including its UN vote and the nuclear accord it reached with Iran last year.
“We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but not anymore,” Trump said in a series of tweets. “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”
Trump had openly lobbied against the UN resolution and would be expected to veto any further ones deemed anti-Israel.
He has vowed to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and has appointed as ambassador a lawyer who raised money for a major Jewish settlement, has cast doubt on the idea of a two-state solution and even advocated for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, a notion even further to the right than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own stance.
Kerry’s 70-minute speech provided some insights into an issue that he personally feels passionate about and had hoped to resolve during his years as secretary of state.
He defended the U.S. decision to allow the passage of a UN resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, saying it was intended to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution.
The United States abstained in the December 23 UN resolution, in what many see as a parting shot by Obama who had an acrimonious relationship with Netanyahu.
Kerry vigorously defended the UN resolution and rejected criticism “that this vote abandons Israel”.
“If we had vetoed this resolution just the other day, the United States would have been giving license to further, unfettered settlement construction that we fundamentally oppose,” Kerry said. “It is not this resolution that is isolating Israel. It is the permanent policy of settlement construction that risks making peace impossible.”
Kerry defended Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security and US support for Israel in international platforms. Earlier this year, the United States and Israel agreed a $38-billion in military assistance over the next decade.