A senior minister from the ruling Likud party charged on Tuesday that an upcoming, highly anticipated speech by US Secretary of State John Kerry on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “pathetic” and set to ensure that any chances for peace would be driven further way.
In a scathingly worded statement sent to the press, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan lambasted Kerry’s planned address on Wednesday, saying it was “pathetic to present a formula to end the conflict at the last moment, when during [his] whole term, [he] couldn’t budge a thing (except for a Hamas-supporting conference in Paris),” a reference to the upcoming peace summit in the French capital on January 15, which Israel has refused to attend, arguing that only bilateral negotiations will lead to a peace accord.
Kerry’s expected speech will come less than a week after the US allowed a United Nations Security Council Resolution denouncing settlement activity pass by refusing to wield its veto power. UN Resolution 2334 says the settlement enterprise “has no legal validity.”
It further calls for a complete end to all construction in areas Israel gained after the 1967 Six Day War. The decision, for which 14 nations voted in favor, has left Israel reeling.
Erdan said Tuesday that Kerry’s speech “together with the recent Security Council decision will finally ensure that the Palestinians will not agree to any negotiations in the coming years and will distance any chance of advancing peace.”
“It’s very saddening that the Obama administration, which has made one mistake after another with regard to the Mideast throughout its tenure, is trying to ensure that this chaos persists after its term ends,” Erdan charged.
Israeli officials have embarked on a tongue-lashing campaign against the Obama administration since the vote on Friday, accusing the US under President Barack Obama of abandoning Israel, of ambushing it at the United Nations and of colluding with the world body to pass the resolution.
Washington has denied Israeli accusations that it pushed the resolution “behind Israel’s back,” citing recent policies pursued by the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pro-settlement claims made by Israeli officials as reasons the US decided to abstain. The White House further argued that Israel should not have been surprised.
Shortly after the vote, Kerry issued a statement saying the resolution would “preserve the possibility of peace,” and indicating he would deliver a speech laying out his vision for a Middle East peace agreement and how future administrations may be able take the issue forward.
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, as 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 recent months, there had been much speculation that either Kerry or Obama may give a speech laying out parameters for reaching a final status agreement that details how future administrations committed to two states may be able to take the issue forward.
Israel now fears Kerry’s principles will later be enshrined in another UN Security Council resolution.
During his tenure as America’s top diplomat, Kerry spent considerable time trying to forge the coveted peace agreement, most notably by embarking on an ultimately futile nine-month round of negotiations 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.
During the Tuesday press briefing, Toner also expressed US concern that Israel’s reaction to the resolution’s passage was inflicting further damage to increase its 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, cutting 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,” he added.
AFP contributed to this report.