A senior Democrat has urged US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama administration not to lay out a vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that may disadvantage Israel in any future negotiations.
Kerry will deliver a highly anticipated address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday, despite massive criticism from Israel in recent days, particularly over the failure of the US to veto a UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements.
The House Democratic Whip, Steny H. Hoyer (Maryland), who is the second ranking elected official in the House Democratic Caucus, issued a statement Tuesday saying that it would contradict longstanding US policy for Kerry to outline the parameters of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“I urge Secretary Kerry and the Administration not to set forth a formula, which will inevitably disadvantage Israel in any negotiation,” he wrote. “The United States must now take steps to signal unequivocally to the entire world that we will continue to stand by our ally Israel as it seeks to build a future of peace and safety as a Jewish state and an equal member of the family of nations.”
At a press briefing earlier on 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.
Kerry himself 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.”
Kerry is expected to 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. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 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.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) on Wednesday told Army Radio that Kerry’s planned speech was “pathetic” and “anti-democratic” because it sought to create facts on the ground and impose policy on the incoming Trump administration.
Hoyer also said that he had urged the US to veto the resolution, which condemned Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
“I urged the Administration to veto the recently passed UN Security Council resolution regarding Israel and settlements. Unfortunately, they failed to do so, and Israel’s enemies were strengthened,” he said.
The UNSC resolution 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.
Hoyer also echoed a statement from US envoy to the UN Samantha Power who had said that “as long as Israel has been a member of this institution, Israel has been treated differently from other nations at the United Nations.”
Hoyer added that in terms of UN discrimination against Israel, “2016 was no exception, and there were more resolutions regarding Israel than there were regarding Syria, North Korea, Iran, South Sudan, and Russia combined.”
Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.