Blaming Israeli and Palestinian leaders, secretary says US 'did a lot of leading to a lot of water, but...'

Kerry defends Obama administration’s record on Israel

Outgoing top diplomat backs US abstention at UN, says it has been a ‘solid best friend’ of Jewish state; warns Trump against moving away from Iran nuke accord

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to CNN on January 16, 2017. (Screenshot/CNN)
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to CNN on January 16, 2017. (Screenshot/CNN)

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the collapse of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and the failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort on the part of the Obama administration but rather to Israelis’ and Palestinians’ unwillingness to negotiate toward an accord.

In a farewell interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday, the outgoing top diplomat objected to a question by his host about how “yet another administration has not brought peace.”

Kerry interjected, saying: “No, the leaders of the countries involved — one country and one entity — have failed to come to the table and reach an agreement.”

Referring to the old saying “you lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink,” Kerry said the US “did a lot of leading to a lot of water, but people decided they weren’t ready for one reason or another to move.”

Kerry, who had returned to the US after Sunday’s peace summit in Paris, defended the Obama administration’s decision last month to abstain from a UN Security Council resolution slamming Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — a decision that infuriated Israel and led Netanyahu to accuse the US of ambushing and abandoning Israel at the UN and of colluding against the Jewish state.

“We, at the UN, made the decision we made, because we believe that Israel has a major choice and the Palestinians have a major choice. The choice we put to Israel is, ‘If you want to be a Jewish state and you want to be a democracy, you cannot be a unitary state,’ and right now they are marching down the road because of the increased settlements, because of the absence of a legitimate negotiation toward that possibility,” he said.

“All we are trying to do is speak as a good, solid best friend of Israel and we have done more for this government, more for Israel than any other administration,” he added, pointing to the unprecedented military aid deal reached with Israel last year and Washington’s involvement in developing and funding Israel’s missile programs.

Kerry himself came under fire last month when he unveiled his blueprint for a two-state solution just days after 14 nations voted for UN Resolution 2334, which called for a halt to settlement activity.

“We speak out of caring and concern for Israel as a democratic and Jewish state and also out of concern for the Palestinians who will not be able to satisfy their aspirations ever without the ability to be able to create a state,” Kerry said in the CNN interview Monday.

The incoming US president, Donald Trump, has signaled that the US stance on Israel will be very different than Obama’s — by promising to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and tapping an ambassador to Israel who believes the settlements are not an obstacle to peace — and has tapped his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner to try to broker an elusive peace deal.

“We wish the administration coming in all the luck in the world,” Kerry said, adding that he would be “stunned” if the Arab world the Palestinians in particular would “agree to less than a state based on 1967 lines with swaps.”

On the Iranian nuclear deal signed in July 2015 — and on which Israel and the US has deeply disagreed, very publicly — Kerry said that the implementation of the agreement in January 2016 “is working and has worked.

“The Iranians, by virtue of the agreement they made, have gone from 19,000 centrifuges that were enriching nuclear material, down to about 5,000… they are limiting their enrichment to 3.67 percent, their stockpile is limited to 300 kg, down from 12,000 kg of enrichment material, so they have lived up to the agreement,” he said.

“The agreement makes it safer for the world not to have a country racing toward a nuclear weapon and have the capacity to do so,” he said, warning that any attempt to cancel or move away from the agreement, as Trump has suggested, would “invite and beg for the possibility of confrontation and conflict.”

“The world would be more dangerous without the agreement,” cautioned Kerry, who was heavily involved in brokering the controversial deal.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (R) in Vienna, Austria on January 16, 2016 (AFP/ POOL / KEVIN LAMARQUE)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (R) in Vienna, Austria on January 16, 2016 (AFP/ POOL / KEVIN LAMARQUE)

In an interview on Sunday, Trump said the Iran deal was “one of the worst deals ever made,” and “one of the dumbest deals I’ve ever seen.”

Kerry indicated Monday that the United States had negotiated at the Paris peace conference to prevent Israel from being treated unfairly.

Kerry thanked France for hosting the international conference and welcomed its final statement in favor of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But he said the positive conclusion was arrived at only after US diplomats insisted on strong language condemning Palestinian incitement and attacks on Israelis.

Nevertheless, the UK refused to sign the joint agreement, blocking the EU from adopting the text.

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