This article titled “Kerry defends US decision not to veto UN resolution against Israeli settlements” was written by Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington and Peter Beaumont, for The Guardian on Wednesday 28th December 2016 18.53 UTC
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has offered a blistering defence of the US decision to allow a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, saying if Washington had vetoed it, Israel would have been given a licence for “unfettered settlement construction” and the end of the peace process.
Framing a two-state solution as “the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians”, Kerry took aim at the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for building a coalition that was “the most rightwing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements”.
Kerry’s speech was the latest chapter in a high-octane diplomatic drama marked by a war of words between the Obama administration and Israel, since the vote on Friday that called Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem a “flagrant violation” of international law.
The speech was immediately condemned by Netanyahu, who described it as “skewed” and “obsessively” focused on the settlement issue.
The exchange between Kerry and Netanyahu marked a new low in the relationship between Israel’s government and the Obama administration.
The US abstention in Friday’s security council resolution drew unprecedented Israeli fury directed at its closest ally – and other friendly countries that voted for the resolution – and accusations of betrayal and underhand dealings.
However, describing the decision, Kerry said: “If we had vetoed this resolution … the United States would have been giving license to further, unfettered settlement construction that we fundamentally oppose.
“It is not this resolution that is isolating Israel. It is the permanent policy of [Israeli] settlement construction that risks making peace impossible.”
The US secretary of state’s speech came as Donald Trump vowed once again to reverse US policy, which he has described as hostile to Israel, as soon as he takes office on 20 January.
The US president-elect issued a pre-emptive rebuttal to Kerry’s speech earlier on Wednesday.
Despite being delivered in the last weeks of the Obama administration, Kerry’s speech – as well as the UN resolution – have been widely seen as a part of an effort to future-proof the two-state solution against the incoming Trump administration, giving the EU and other institutions the tools to continue pressuring Israel on issues such as the settlements.
This resulted in one of the most passionate speeches delivered by Kerry during his time as America’s leading diplomat.
Pushing back at Israel’s fury over the US abstention , Kerry pointedly questioned Netanyahu’s commitment to Palestinian statehood , asking whether Israelis believed their interests were best served by the recent attacks on the Obama administration by Israeli leaders.
Kerry also offered a bleak vision of the risk of the collapse of the Oslo peace process and the two-state solution, describing the alternative one-state solution in the darkest terms.
“Today, there are a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea,” Kerry told his audience of diplomats in Washington, out lining the demographic reality on the ground that would colour the future of a unitary state.
“[Israelis and Palestinians] have a choice. They can choose to live together in one state, or they can separate into two states.
“Despite our best efforts over the years, the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy … We cannot, in good conscience, do nothing, and say nothing, when we see the hope of peace slipping away.
“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 also took the opportunity to forcefully deny Israeli accusations that the Obama administration had been behind the drafting of the resolution amid Israeli accusations that the US colluded with the Palestinians .
The US, insisted Kerry, “did not draft or originate” the UN resolution, adding : “ Nor did we put it forward [in the UN].”
“The United States did in fact vote in accordance with our values, just as previous administrations have done,” Kerry said during the speech at the US state department. “The vote in the United Nations was about preserving the two-state solution. That’s what we were standing up for.”
Kerry outlined a series of principles he said should form the basis of a future peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, with the likely participation of the U S, including a “secure and recognised border” between Israel and the new nation of Palestine.
He also said an agreement must help Palestinian refugees, designate Jerusalem as a capital for both states and satisfy Israel’s security needs.
Kerry insisted that far from abandoning Israel, the Obama administration had been one of its strongest defenders, not least in the signing of a bn (£31bn) defence assistance deal.
Responding to the speech, Netanyahu said in a statement: “Like the security council resolution that Secretary Kerry advanced in the UN, his speech tonight was skewed against Israel .
<figure class="element element-video" data-canonical-url="https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/dec/28/netanyahu-kerry-comments-biased-against-israel-video" data-short-url="https://gu.com/p/5t8bt" data-show-ads="true" data-video-id="3017646" data-video-name="Netanyahu says Kerry comments 'skewed' against Israel – video" data-video-provider="AP"> <video data-media-id="gu-video-586414ece4b0fcf474af59fd" class="gu-video" controls="controls" poster=""> </video> <figcaption><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/dec/28/netanyahu-kerry-comments-biased-against-israel-video">Netanyahu says Kerry comments ‘skewed’ against Israel – video</a></figcaption> </figure> <p>“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.”
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