Israel’s leadership was quick to deride US Secretary of State John Kerry’s vision for a solution to the Middle East conflict Wednesday, shortly after the American diplomat once again championed the two-state solution, castigated settlements, and staunchly defended the Obama administration’s decision to allow the UN Security Council to declare Israeli settlements illegal.
Responding to the speech, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement to the media that, “Like the Security Council resolution that Secretary Kerry advanced at the UN, his speech tonight was skewed against Israel.
“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.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, said he had no intention of allowing Palestinians to set up a “terror state” alongside Israel.
“Kerry quoted me three times anonymously [in his speech] to show that we are opposed to a Palestinian state,” Bennett wrote in Hebrew on Twitter. “It’s true. If it’s up to me, we will not establish another terror state in the heart of the land [of Israel].”
He later added in English that the US was obsessed with Israel while ignoring far worse issues in the region.
Kerry–good intentions but policy divorced from reality:
Left Mideast in flames, Syrian genocide, Iran racing to bomb, Israel abandoned.
— Naftali Bennett בנט (@naftalibennett) December 28, 2016
Kerry, pushing back on Israel’s fury at the US abstention in the United Nations vote, questioned Netanyahu’s true commitment to Palestinian statehood, which has formed the basis for all serious peace talks for years. Though Netanyahu says he believes in the two-state solution, Kerry said, under his leadership Israel’s government is “the most right-wing in Israel’s history.”
“If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both, and it won’t ever really be at peace,” Kerry said in a farewell speech, a comprehensive airing of grievances that have built up in the Obama administration over eight years, but were rarely, until this month, discussed publicly.
Point by point, Kerry tried to rebut the arguments Israel has used to defend the settlements, declaring that “the settler agenda is defining the future of Israel.” He warned that Israel was at risk of a permanent occupation of Palestinian territory, drawing a pointed reference to America’s own history of racial segregation.
“Separate and unequal is what you would have, and nobody can explain how that works,” Kerry said.
Moments after Kerry finished his speech, Netanyahu posted a photo of Obama at the Western Wall on his Facebook page.
“2008: Presidential candidate Barack Obama at the Western Wall. 2016: UN calls the Western Wall ‘occupied Palestinian territory’ Seriously?” the post said.
2008: Presidential candidate Barack Obama at the Western Wall2016: UN calls the Western Wall "occupied Palestinian territory"Seriously?
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close Netanyahu associate, told the Walla News website that Kerry and US President Barack Obama were “living in fantasy.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Kerry’s proposed solutions were unrealistic. “For 25 years we tried similar methods, and instead of peace we got islands of terror,” she said.
Israel’s envoy to the UN Danny Danon refuted Kerry’s claim that Washington remained a strong supporter of the Jewish state, saying “advancing one-sided resolutions against Israel is not support of Israel, it is the opposite.”
And Culture Minister Miri Regev claimed the speech “gives hope to terror organizations” and vowed that Jerusalem would remain Israel’s capital “forever.” Kerry, she said, was “welcome to propose to divide up Washington.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan had called Kerry’s speech a “pathetic step,” before Kerry even began speaking.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, meanwhile, praised Kerry for his “true concern” for Israel’s security.
“John Kerry was always a friend of Israel and remains a friend of Israel,” Herzog said on Twitter, “and his speech expresses true concern about Israel’s security and future.”
John Kerry has always been a great friend of Israel and will always be. His speech expresses true concerns about Israels wellbeing & future.
— יצחק הרצוג Isaac Herzog (@Isaac_Herzog) December 28, 2016
MK Amir Peretz, also of Zionist Union, said Israel had become a secluded nation and was in “dire straits” in the international arena. Kerry’s speech “offers a path [to peace] or a possible solution, and therein lies its importance,” he said. Continued inaction by Israel, he warned, will lead to “deeper isolation in the world.”
Tzipi Livni of Zionist Union said Kerry had highlighted the decision Israelis must make: “a secure, Jewish and democratic Israel or a bi-national, discordant state.”
Livni said the two-state solution was a clear Israeli interest. “That is the true, and only, internal debate we must have right now: separation from the Palestinians or one state.”
Former prime minister Ehud Barak called Kerry’s speech “strong and sane” on Twitter. “The prime minister is being dragged along by the messianic movement, stands over a precipice and insists on walking forward.”
And Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi went even further, calling on Washington to recognize a Palestinian state before President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in.
“Kerry and Obama’s speeches will leave no mark on history if the administration does not recognize the State of Palestine before Obama’s term ends,” he said, warning that the two-state solution was in danger of collapse.
Tibi added that the Israeli government under Netanyahu was leading the country to “a bi-national state based on apartheid” in which a Jewish minority would rule an Arab majority.
Kerry’s speech marked the latest escalation in the vicious, drama-filled row between the US and Israel that has erupted in the last days of Obama’s administration. The extraordinary display of discord between allies — with US and Israeli officials openly disparaging each other — has also pitted Obama against Trump, who has firmly taken Netanyahu’s side.
Israel’s government was enraged after the US abstained from voting on the UN Security Council resolution last week that called Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem a violation of international law. Netanyahu accused the US of colluding with the Palestinians and helping draft the resolution.
The US has vehemently denied those charges. Kerry insisted the US “did not draft or originate” the resolution, introduce by Egypt and later by a handful of other nations.
“The United States did in fact vote in accordance with our values, just as previous administrations have done,” Kerry said at the State Department. “The vote in the United Nations was about preserving the two-state solution. That’s what we were standing up for.”
Though Kerry’s speech was likely to further enrage Israel’s government, Kerry did offer assurances that Obama wasn’t planning other parting shots that Israel has been concerned are in the works. Kerry said the outgoing administration wouldn’t promote a UN resolution laying out parameters for a deal, nor would it recognize Palestinian statehood.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.