WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry will deliver a highly anticipated address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Wednesday, as Israel continues to rage over the United States allowing a resolution critical of settlement building to pass the United Nations Security Council.
At a press briefing Tuesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner confirmed Kerry’s plans for the speech, though he refused to detail whether the top US diplomat would use the opportunity to announce a new American initiative, which officials in Jerusalem fear he may.
Toner said the secretary holds the conviction that “it is his duty in his remaining weeks and days as secretary of state to lay out what he believes is a way towards a two-state solution” and that “it’s always important to keep the process moving forward.”
“We haven’t given up on this and we don’t think the Israelis and Palestinians should either,” he added.
Officials said Kerry would make the speech to an invited audience, including the Washington diplomatic corps, at the State Department, in which he will provide a “comprehensive vision for how he believes the conflict can be resolved.”
Israel fears that Kerry’s principles will be discussed at a Paris summit on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on January 15 and could be enshrined in a further United Nations Security Council resolution. Its prime minister and top diplomats have directly accused the Obama administration of working with the Palestinians to drive through Friday’s Resolution 2334, something the US has denied.
Kerry indicated Friday he would soon address the subject of moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts when he issued a statement following the US decision to abstain — and not veto — the Security Council measure, saying it would “preserve the possibility for peace.”
UN Resolution 2334 says that the settlement enterprise “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law” and calls for a complete end to all construction in areas Israel gained after the 1967 Six Day War.
The text was approved with 14-0 with the United States abstaining.
In recent months, there had been increasing speculation that either Kerry or President Barack Obama might give a speech laying out parameters for reaching a final status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, detailing how future administrations that are committed to the two-state outcome may be able to take the issue forward.
On Friday, Kerry said he would soon “share more detailed thoughts, drawn from the experience of the last several years, on the way ahead.”
During his tenure at the State Department, Kerry has spent considerable time trying to forge the coveted peace agreement, most notably though embarking on an ultimately futile nine-month round of negotiations in 2013-4 intended to reach a comprehensive accord.
Kerry was originally slated to give his address on Thursday, in the immediate aftermath of the vote, but canceled the speech after Egypt pulled the resolution at the last minute, apparently responding to pressure from Israel and US President-elect Donald Trump.
The same resolution was introduced on Friday by New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela, and passed 14-0 with the US abstaining.
Trump said on the campaign trail he would attempt to make peace between the sides, but has also given hints he is not committed to the two-state framework.
His pick for US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, told The Times of Israel in November that “a two-state solution is not a priority” for the incoming president.
During a Tuesday press briefing, Toner also expressed US concern that Israel’s reaction to the resolution’s passage was inflicting further damage by increasing Israel’s isolation in the international community
“We’re concerned when we see Israel take actions that will isolate it … but its not for us to speak anymore to what Israel decides to do,” he said.
“We don’t want this to create a diplomatic firestorm,” he added. “What we want are actions that create a climate that is conducive to return to direct negotiations.”
Responding to the recent UN censure, Israel has hauled in envoys from countries that passed the measure for rebuke and has sanctioned several of them, reducing ties and aid programs and canceling meetings.
Defending these moves, the Israeli premier said, “Israel is a country with national pride, and we do not turn the other cheek.”
“This is a responsible, measured and vigorous response, the natural response of a healthy people that is making it clear to the nations of the world that what was done at the UN is unacceptable to us,” Netanyahu added on Monday.
At his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu also addressed a conversation he had with Kerry on Thursday, in which he said he told him “friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.”
Since Friday, Israel has accused the United States of working to initiate the resolution, including by colluding with the Palestinians to strategize over its language — an allegation Washington categorically denies.
“The idea this was pre-cooked in advance is not accurate,” Toner said Tuesday.