In part­ing shot, Kerry rips Is­rael over set­tle­ments

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Josh Lederman and Matthew Daly

wash­ing­ton» Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry tore into Is­rael on Wed­nes­day for set­tle­ment-build­ing, ac­cus­ing Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu of drag­ging Is­rael away from democ­racy and force­fully re­ject­ing the no­tion that Amer­ica had aban­doned Is­rael with a con­tro­ver­sial U.N. vote. Ne­tanyahu ac­cused the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of a bi­ased bid to blame Is­rael for fail­ure to reach a peace deal.

In a farewell speech, Kerry laid out a two-state vi­sion for peace that he won’t be in of­fice to im­ple­ment but that the U.S. hoped might be heeded even af­ter Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s term ends. He de­fended Obama’s move last week to al­low the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to de­clare Is­raeli set­tle­ments il­le­gal, the spark that set off an ex­tra­or­di­nary and deep­en­ing diplo­matic spat be­tween the U.S. and its clos­est Mideast ally.

“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 said in a speech that ran more than an hour, a com­pre­hen­sive air­ing of griev­ances that have built up in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion over eight years but were rarely, un­til this month, dis­cussed pub­licly.

Ne­tanyahu pushed back in a hastily ar­ranged tele­vised state­ment in which he sug­gested he was done with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and ready to deal with Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, who has sided squarely with Is­rael. The Is­raeli leader faulted Kerry for ob­sess­ing over set­tle­ments while pay­ing mere “lip ser­vice” to Pales­tinian at­tacks and in­cite­ment of vi­o­lence.

“Is­raelis do not need to be lec­tured about the im­por­tance of peace by for­eign lead­ers,” Ne­tanyahu said from Jerusalem.

The du­el­ing re­crim­i­na­tions marked a low point for U.S.-Is­rael re­la­tions, and a bit­ter end to eight years of frus­trated ties be­tween Obama and Ne­tanyahu, who quar­reled re­peat­edly over set­tle­ments, the peace process and Obama’s nu­clear deal with Iran.

Trump, who has as­sured Is­rael it merely needs to “hang on” un­til he takes over, told re­porters that Kerry’s speech spoke for it­self. It was un­clear whether Is­rael came up in a phone call Obama, while va­ca­tion­ing in Hawaii, placed to Trump on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

Ne­tanyahu ex­pressed con­cern that a French­hosted sum­mit next month could lead to an in­ter­na­tional frame­work that the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil might then cod­ify with Obama’s as­sent, box­ing Is­rael in.

The diplo­matic fra­cas erupted last week when the U.S., in a de­par­ture from past pol­icy, de­cided to ab­stain rather than veto a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion call­ing Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the West Bank and east Jerusalem a vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law. Is­rael was in­censed. And on Wed­nes­day, Ne­tanyahu claimed Is­rael has “ab­so­lute, in­dis­pens­able ev­i­dence” the U.S. ac­tu­ally spear­headed the res­o­lu­tion.

Ne­tanyahu of­fered what he called proof of U.S. col­lu­sion: a doc­u­ment, leaked to an Egyp­tian news­pa­per, that pur­ports to be a Pales­tinian ac­count of a De­cem­ber meet­ing be­tween top U.S. and Pales­tinian of­fi­cials.

But White House spokesman Ned Price called it a “to­tal fab­ri­ca­tion” and added: “This meet­ing never oc­curred.”

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