Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech today at the State Department and declared that Israel "can either be Jewish or democratic" but "it cannot be both." The highest-ranking American diplomat thus added further controversy in the already strained relations between the U.S. and Israel, and between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Kerry said that the current government in Israel is jeopardizing the peace process. "The truth is that trends on the ground, violence, terrorism, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation,” Kerry said, “they are combining to destroy hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing any reversible -- an irreversible one state reality that most people do not actually want.
“Today, there are a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. They have a choice. They can choose to live together in one state or they can separate into two states. But here is a fundamental reality. 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.
Moreover, the Palestinians will never fully realize their vast potential in a homeland of their own with a one-state solution."
Kerry defended the Obama administration for abstaining in a key vote at the United Nations that has been interpreted as equally a slap at Netanyahu as it is against Donald Trump. The U.S. thus permitted U.N. resolution to go forward that declares Israeli settlements illegal under international law.
Saying that no American administration has done more the security of Israel than the current administration, Kerry said, "In fact, this administration has been Israel's greatest friend and supporter with an absolutely unwavering commitment to advancing Israel's security and protecting its legitimacy. On this point, I want to be very clear. No American administration has done more for the security of Israel than Barack Obama's. The Israeli prime minister himself has noted our, quote 'unprecedented military intelligence cooperation.' Our military exercises are more advanced than ever and our assistance for Iron Dome has saved countless Israeli lives."
Kerry described the Netanyahu government in Israel as "the most right-wing in Israel's history."
His speech marked an escalation in the current row between the U.S. and Israel. It has resulted in open disparagement between the two heads of state, while President-elect Donald Trump has firmly come down on the side of Israel. Netanyahu accused the Obama administration of collusion with Palestinians and other countries in drafting the U.N. resolution. Kerry insisted that the administration "did not draft or originate" the resolution, introduced 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."
Despite the latest upset in bilateral relations, Kerry offered assurances that Obama does not plan any other parting shots at Israel. He said that the U.S. will not promote a U.N. resolution laying out parameters for an agreement, nor would it recognize Palestinian statehood.
Obama continues to vacation in Hawaii and has not commented openly about it.
Kerry also denounced, on one hand, Israel's "seemingly endless occupation" of Palestinian land, while he condemned Palestinian leaders' "incitement" of violence on the other. He also spoke to demographic trends that show that the non-Jewish population in Israel will eventually make Jews a minority unless there is a separate Palestinian state.
Israeli leaders have made no secret that they are counting on Trump to change U.S. policy. Trump has assured Israeli leaders to “hang on" until his Jan. 20 inauguration. In response, Netanyahu tweeted, "President-elect Trump, thank you for your warm friendship and your clear-cut support for Israel."
Israel says it has evidence of the Obama administration's collusion. “We will present this evidence to the new administration through the appropriate channels, and if they want to share it with the American people they are welcome to do it,” Ron Dermer told CNN’s Don Lemon on December 26.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to Kerry's hour-long speech. In a statement, the veteran politician and diplomat said, "We have it on absolute incontestable evidence that the United States organized, advanced and brought this resolution to the United Nations Security Council. We will share that information with the incoming administration; some of it is sensitive, it’s all true; you saw some of it in the protocol released in the Egyptian paper – there’s plenty more, that’s just the tip of the iceberg."
Kerry appeared to say there was collusion. "And during the time of the process, as it went out we made clear to others including those on the Security Council that it was possible that if the resolution were to be balanced and it were to include references to incitement and to terrorism that it was possible the United States would then not block it, if it was balanced and fair. That is a standard practice with resolutions at the Security Council. The Egyptians and the Palestinians and many others understood that if the text were more balanced it was possible we wouldn't block it. But we also made crystal clear that the president of the United States would not make a final decision about our own position until we saw the final text."
"We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect," Trump posted today before Kerry spoke. He added, "[Israel] used to have a great friend in the U.S., but... not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)!"
Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians for an independent state, has long been a sore point for Palestinians. The Palestinians see the settlements, now home to 600,000 Israelis, as an obstacle to peace.
The State Department is denying reports in Arab-language media that the Obama administration orchestrated the December 23 vote at the United Nations. The document was published by the Egyptian outlet Al-Youm Al-Sabaa and reported by Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The leaked document purportedly shows that Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice met with a Palestinian delegation 10 days before the vote in the U.N. Security vote. According to Haaretz, the document shows that Kerry and Rice said the U.S. would abstain from the vote if the resolution was balanced.