In a lengthy speech delivered with less than a month until he leaves office, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday warned that Israeli settlement building is a dire threat to peace in the Middle East.
"The settler agenda is defining the future in Israel," Kerry said amid high tensions over last week's United Nations Security Council vote demanding an end to settlement activity. "And their stated purpose is clear: They believe in one state: Greater Israel."
"No one thinking seriously about peace can ignore the reality of the threat settlements pose to peace," he said in the 70-minute speech (pdf). And, Kerry added: "The problem goes well beyond just settlements. Trends indicate a comprehensive effort to take West Bank land for Israel and prevent any Palestinian development there."
The Associated Press described Kerry's address as "a comprehensive airing of grievances that have built up in the Obama administration over eight years but were rarely, until this month, discussed publicly."
The New York Times reported:
Mr. Kerry wanted to deliver Wednesday's speech more than two years ago, current and former aides say. But he was blocked from doing so by the White House, which saw little value in further angering [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, who has opposed any speech that might limit Israel's negotiating room or become the basis for a United Nations Security Council resolution to guide the terms of a "final status" [peace] deal.
Now, after a remarkable confrontation with Israel after the Security Council's passage of a resolution condemning Israeli settlements as a flagrant violation of international law, Mr. Kerry appears to have concluded there is nothing left to lose.
Indeed, Kerry blasted Netanyahu's government, declaring:
The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements. The result is that policies of this government—which the prime minister himself just described as 'more committed to settlements than any in Israel's history'— are leading in the opposite direction, towards one state.
But Reuters noted that Kerry's
parting words are unlikely to change anything on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians or salvage the Obama administration's record of failed Middle East peace efforts.
The Israelis are looking past President Barack Obama and expect they will receive more favorable treatment from [President-elect Donald] Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20. The Republican used his Twitter account on Wednesday to denounce the Obama administration, including its U.N. vote and the nuclear accord it reached with Iran last year.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu "thanked" Trump for his "clear-cut support for Israel" on Twitter Monday, tagging Trump's children Ivanka and Donald, Jr. in the message.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) December 28, 2016
And in a statement on Tuesday, Netanyahu's office denounced the speech, saying it was "skewed against Israel" and "obsessively" focused on Israeli settlements.
But critics on the other side of the issue said the speech lacked teeth. "Kerry's plea to preserve a two-state solution failed to offer a real vision for how Palestinian human rights will be established and respected in full—and so is no plan at all," Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) said in its response. "Israel's actions have made it very clear that without concrete pressure, they will continue to pursue policies to expand their sovereignty and quell efforts to realize Palestinian rights."
Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, similarly charged:
Most important message Kerry sent today to Israel: If you choose Apartheid, US will choose Equal Rights.
Thing is, Israel already chose.
— (((YousefMunayyer))) (@YousefMunayyer) December 28, 2016
The JVP statement continued:
One thing is very clear: any plan must include ensuring equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, right of return for Palestinian refugees, an end to military occupation, and freedom for all Palestinians. But the reality is that Israel has no incentive to comply with the principles Kerry outlined. This year, the U.S. promised Israel billions more dollars in military aid. Prime Minister Netanyahu and President-elect Trump are planning a future of a U.S. and Israel partnership against the world, fueled by xenophobic, aggressive bluster. This only adds to the energy and necessity of the already growing international pressure on Israel to ensure Palestinian rights.
This last week has brought unexpected headlines and last-ditch attempts by the Obama administration to resurrect a two-state solution before a Netanyahu and Trump alliance entrenches Israeli apartheid. There’s no way around it: what Secretary Kerry outlined in his speech is flat out impossible. The window for a two-state solution has passed thanks primarily to Israel’s continued Jewish-only settlement expansion on Palestinian land, unhinged right-wing government passing a steady stream of anti-democratic legislation, and refusal to ensure Palestinians’ basic human rights. The "viable and contiguous" land for a Palestinian state Kerry spoke of is pockmarked with settlements and checkpoints. A new framework is needed, one that centers issues of rights, not just borders.
Along with CodePink and other human rights advocates, JVP called for "increasing grassroots pressure on Israel, through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns, until full human rights of Palestinians are realized."
— CODEPINK (@codepink) December 28, 2016
Kerry: “We cannot in good conscience do nothing and say nothing.” I say: that is why we BDS.
— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) December 28, 2016
Kerry speaking as if we aren't past the breaking point. We need action: BDS, cut aid, stop normalizing Israeli apartheid & occupation.
— Remi Kanazi (@Remroum) December 28, 2016
Others also called for the cessation of military aid to Israel:
— Palestinian Rights (@US_Campaign) December 28, 2016