December 29, 2016
Declaring that “no American administration has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama’s,” Secretary of State John Kerry defended the administration’s decision to abstain from voting on a controversial United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel for constructing settlements on land it has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War.
During a rambling speech at the State Department on Wednesday, Kerry said that the settlements jeopardize “a two-state solution” to the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We could not, in good conscience, stand in the way of a resolution at the United Nations that makes clear that both sides must act now to preserve the possibility of peace,” he added, calling the current situation a “dangerous dynamic” that “promises greater conflict and instability” in the region.
The Obama administration’s refusal to veto the resolution was roundly criticized by Republican and Democrat lawmakers, with incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calling the decision “extremely frustrating, disappointing, and confounding.”
But Kerry defended the administration’s actions, saying that it was necessary to have “an honest, clear-eyed conversation about the uncomfortable truths and difficult choices, because the alternative that is fast becoming the reality on the ground is in nobody’s interests.”
“Throughout his administration, President Obama has been deeply committed to Israel and its security,” Kerry said. “And that commitment has guided his pursuit of peace in the Middle East.
“This is an issue which all of you know I have worked on intensively during my time as secretary of state for one simple reason: Because the two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
“It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbors. It is the only way to ensure a future, freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people, and it is an important way of advancing the United States’ interests in the region.”
“Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect,” Kerry continued, responding to criticism from Israel’s permanent representative to the U.N.
“I am compelled to respond today that the United States did in fact vote in accordance with our values, just as previous U.S. administrations had done at the Security Council before us,” Kerry said.
“They failed to recognize that this friend, the United States of America, that has done more to support Israel than any other country, this friend that has blocked countless efforts to delegitimize Israel, cannot be true to our own values or even the stated democratic values of Israel, and we cannot properly defend and protect Israel if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our own eyes.
The vote in the United Nations was about preserving the two-state solution. That’s what we were standing up for“And that’s the bottom line.
The vote in the United Nations was about preserving the two-state solution. That’s what we were standing up for,” Kerry said. “Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living side by side in peace and security with its neighbors. That’s what we are trying to preserve, for our sake and for theirs.
“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,” he added.
“On this point, I want to be very clear. No American administration has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama’s.”
Kerry also denied a charge by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had a rocky relationship with Obama, that his administration had a hand in drafting the U.N. resolution.
“The U.S. did not draft or originate the resolution, nor did we push it forward,” Kerry said. However, “we made it clear to others on the Security Council that if there was a reference to the incitement of terrorism, there was a possibility that the U.S. would not block it.”
Resolution 2334 calls for “a freeze by Israel of all settlement activity, including ‘natural growth’, and the dismantlement of all settlement outposts erected since 2001.” Another provision directed at the Palestinians condemns “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction.”
Kerry went on to say that “despite our best efforts, a two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy.”
“There really is not a viable alternative,” he said. “This vote was about Israel and the Palestinians taking increased steps to render the two-state solution impossible.”
Without creating a separate state for the Palestinians, “Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both, and it will never be at peace,” Kerry said. And Palestinians will “never achieve their vast potential in a homeland of their own,” he argued.
Nevertheless, “both sides continue to push the narrative that plays into people’s fears,” Kerry said, adding that although Netanyahu publicly supports a two-state solution, Israel’s current settlement policies “lead in the opposite direction”.
“This is not to say that settlements are wholly or even partly the cause of the conflict, nor is it saying that if settlements are removed you would have peace. You would not,” Kerry said.
“But if more and more settlements move to the middle of Palestinian areas, it’s going to be much harder to separate,” the secretary of state said.