Clash over set­tle­ments

Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry re­buked by Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu over his com­ments on the two-state peace plans.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY CARLO MUNOZ

Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry launched a rhetor­i­cal broad­side against Is­rael Wed­nes­day, say­ing Wash­ing­ton could not “pro­tect or de­fend” the coun­try should Tel Aviv con­tinue to balk at twostate peace plans with Pales­tini­ans.

His com­ments drew swift and sharp re­buke from Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, who chided Mr. Kerry by say­ing Is­raelis did “not need to be lec­tured” about peace by the out­go­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion, while Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump weighed in even be­fore the speech was given with a strong sup­port for Mr. Ne­tanyahu and Is­rael, and vow­ing his in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion would take a sharply dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

It was an ex­tra­or­di­nary and ex­traor­di­nar­ily public di­vi­sion be­tween two long­time al­lies, one that could have last­ing and in­cal­cu­la­ble con­se­quences for the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict and Wash­ing­ton’s tra­di­tional role as an hon­est bro­ker and the main out­side power in the Mid­dle East peace process.

Mr. Kerry’s 70-minute speech, much of it de­voted to a cri­tique of the Ne­tanyahu govern­ment’s poli­cies, came a week af­ter the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion broke with long­stand­ing U.S. prac­tice and re­fused to veto a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion char­ac­ter­iz­ing Is­raeli set­tle­ments on Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory as a “fla­grant vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law.”

“The vote in the United Na­tions was about pre­serv­ing the two-state so­lu­tion — that’s what we were stand­ing up for,” Mr. Kerry told an au­di­ence at the State Depart­ment, as­sert­ing that the Is­raeli set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity has “steadily grown” in re­cent years, dan­ger­ously in­flam­ing ten­sions with Pales­tini­ans and jeop­ar­diz­ing any re­al­is­tic path to­ward peace.

Is­rael “can be Jewish or demo­cratic, it can­not be both,” he said, adding that with­out mak­ing some hard choices, Is­rael will never en­joy last­ing peace.

In a press con­fer­ence in Tel Aviv, Mr. Ne­tanyahu ex­pressed his “deep dis­ap­point­ment” over Mr. Kerry’s “one-sided” re­marks, which he said failed to take into ac­count the se­cu­rity chal­lenges Is­rael faced.

“Is­raelis do not need to be lec­tured about the im­por­tance of peace by for­eign lead­ers. Is­rael’s hand has been ex­tended … since Day One,” he said. “It is a shame that Sec­re­tary Kerry does not see this sim­ple truth.”

Mr. Trump, in a bar­rage of tweets Wed­nes­day morn­ing, urged Is­rael to “stay strong” un­til he takes of­fice next month, and ac­cused the Pres­i­dent Obama of erect­ing “road­blocks” to a smooth tran­si­tion.

Crit­ics say the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion not to veto Fri­day’s Se­cu­rity Coun­cil vote — which passed on a 14-0 vote — was equiv­a­lent to sup­port­ing the mea­sure and marked a trou­bling de­par­ture from Wash­ing­ton’s long his­tory of de­fend­ing Is­rael at the U.N.

Such crit­i­cism “failed to rec­og­nize that this friend, the United States of Amer­ica, has done more to sup­port Is­rael than any other coun­try,” Mr. Kerry said Wed­nes­day. He ar­gued the U.S. was es­sen­tially try­ing to save Is­rael from it­self, and that the mis­guided set­tle­ment pol­icy was iso­lat­ing the Jewish state.

Sen. Ben­jamin L. Cardin, Mary­land Demo­crat and For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber, while back­ing a two-state so­lu­tion, said he re­gret­ted the de­ci­sion not to block the U.N. res­o­lu­tion. And Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the in­com­ing Demo­cratic leader, said Is­rael’s un­happy ex­pe­ri­ence when it with­drew from the Gaza Strip — and Pales­tini­ans used the ter­ri­tory to launch mis­sile strikes into Is­rael — un­der­cut the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ar­gu­ments.

“While he may not have in­tended it, I fear Sec­re­tary Kerry, in his speech and ac­tion at the U.N., has em­bold­ened ex­trem­ists on both sides,” Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Ne­tanyahu ex­pressed con­cern that a sum­mit be­ing or­ga­nized by France next month could pro­duce an in­ter­na­tional frame­work that the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil might then cod­ify with Mr. Obama’s as­sent, box­ing Is­rael in. Yet Mr. Kerry seemed to rule out the pos­si­bil­ity the U.S. plans any new pol­icy steps on the Is­raeliPales­tinian con­flict be­fore Mr. Trump is sworn in.

Mr. Kerry’s com­ments high­lighted the long­stand­ing rift in the diplo­matic and per­sonal re­la­tion­ship be­tween Mr. Ne­tanyahu and Pres­i­dent Obama, which nearly froze af­ter the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s nu­clear deal with Iran.

The tim­ing of Mr. Kerry’s com­ments, so soon af­ter the U.N. vote on Jewish set­tle­ments, was yet an­other ex­am­ple of that an­i­mos­ity, says one re­gional an­a­lyst.

“Pres­i­dent Obama and [Sec­re­tary] Kerry could have led with this sev­eral months ago and set the stage for a U.N. vote while giv­ing Is­rael an op­por­tu­nity to en­gage,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice pres­i­dent of re­search at the Foundation for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies.

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