Skip to main content

No peace unless Israel accepts Palestinian state: Kerry

Secretary of state says US abstained on UN settlement vote because of its commitment to 'Jewish state living side by side with neighbours'
John Kerry spoke at the State Department on Wednesday (US State Department website)

Peace between Israel and the Arab world is impossible unless Israel accepts the existence of a Palestinian state, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a major policy speech on Wednesday.

He called the peace process "in jeopardy" and said, "if Israel goes down the one state path, it will never have true peace with the rest of the Arab world".

He also warned that Israeli government policies were seemingly driven by "extreme elements" committed to a single state.

Responding to Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador to the UN who said that he had expected Washington to back Israel, Kerry said that the US had acted in accordance with its values.

"They fail to recognise 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 delegitimise 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," he said.

"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: Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living side by side in peace and security with its neighbours. That’s what we are trying to preserve for our sake and for theirs."

Kerry added later: "We reject the criticism that this vote abandons Israel. On the contrary, it is not this resolution that is isolating Israel; it is the permanent policy of settlement construction that risks making peace impossible."

READ: The UN settlement resolution: Whose victory is it?

Kerry also criticised the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, describing his coalition government as the "most right-wing in Israeli history".

Netanyahu had said he was committed to a two-state solution, Kerry said, but his government's agenda appeared geared towards a one-state solution that aimed at creating a "greater Israel".

"This is the most right-wing government in Israeli history with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements," Kerry said.

He also said that the "settlement agenda" was defining Israel, with the proliferation of settlements inadvertently increasing the "security burden" on Israeli forces.

"The settler agenda is defining the future in Israel. And their stated purpose is clear: They believe in one state: greater Israel," he said.

He added that the peace process "goes well beyond settlements".

"Trends indicate a comprehensive effort to take the West Bank land for Israel and prevent any Palestinian development there. Today, the 60 percent of the West Bank known as Area C – much of which was supposed to be transferred to Palestinian control long ago under the Oslo Accords – much of it is effectively off limits to Palestinian development," he said.

"In the end, we could not in good conscience protect the most extreme elements of the settler movement as it tries to destroy the two-state solution. We could not in good conscience turn a blind eye to Palestinian actions that fan hatred and violence. It is not in US interest to help anyone on either side create a unitary state. And we may not be able to stop them, but we cannot be expected to defend them. And it is certainly not the role of any country to vote against its own policies," he said.

Kerry also stated that US policy towards Israeli settlements has not changed for decades, and has been bipartisan.

"It’s important to note that every United States administration, Republican and Democratic, has opposed settlements as contrary to the prospects for peace, and action at the UN Security Council is far from unprecedented. In fact, previous administrations of both political parties have allowed resolutions that were critical of Israel to pass, including on settlements."

Friday's resolution was deemed controversial by most of the Israeli political establishment as it was the first time in 40 years a motion condemning Israel had been passed by the UN Security Council where the US traditionally wields its veto on matters relating to it.

READ: UN resolution: Obama’s personal act of vengeance against Netanyahu

It also comes weeks before US president-elect Donald Trump, who is considered an ardent supporter of Israel, is set to take office, replacing incumbent President Barack Obama who has had cool relations with Netanyahu.

Abbas, Netanyahu respond

Following Kerry's speech, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas released a statement, saying that Palestine will work with Israel "the minute the Israeli government agrees to cease all settlement activities".

"The Palestinian leadership stands ready to resume permanent status negotiations on the basis of international law and relevant international legality resolutions, including UNSC 2334, under a specified timeframe," it read.

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump said that Israel was being treated "with total disdain and disrespect" and urged it to "stay strong".

Netanyahu pushed back against Kerry's statements on Tuesday, saying "Secretary Kerry paid lip service to the unremitting campaign of terrorism that has been waged by the Palestinians against the Jewish state for nearly a century."

"What he did was to spend most of his speech blaming Israel for the lack of peace, by passionately condemning a policy of enabling Jews to live in their historic homeland and in their eternal capital Jerusalem," he added.

He also welcomed Trump's comments in a tweet and said that Israel plans to give him evidence that the US deliberately pushed the Security Council resolution.

Kerry said that Obama's administration had been "Israel's greatest friend and supporter with an unwavering commitment to protecting its security and legitimacy".

"We have consistently defended the right of Israel to defend itself by itself," he said, condemning Palestinian support for militant groups that threatened Israel.

Kerry said that the buildup of arms by Hamas in Gaza and militant activities there had to stop.

"We have called for the Palestinians to do everything in their power to stop violence and incitement, including publicly and consistently condemning acts of terrorism and stopping the glorification of violence," he said.

"And we have called on them to continue efforts to strengthen their own institutions and to improve governance, transparency, and accountability."

But Kerry also described the plight of 2.75 million Palestinians living "under military occupation" in the West Bank.

"They are restricted in their daily movements by a web of checkpoints so if there is only one state you would have millions of Palestinians living in segregated enclaves under a permanent military occupation that deprives them of the most basic freedoms," he said. "Would an Israeli accept that? Would an American accept that? Would the world accept that?"

Kerry's remarks came as Israel approved the latest batch of settlements being built in the occupied West Bank in defiance of the UN security council resolution that was passed last week. 

Following the resolution's passing, Israel suspended diplomatic ties with with nations that voted for it.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.