Live Blog

John Kerry's Speech on the Israel-Palestinian Issue

The American secretary of state will unveil later Wednesday U.S. plans for peace between the two rivals.

Gary Cameron / Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will outline Wednesday the U.S. vision of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, just days after the U.S. abstained from a UN Security Council vote that criticized Israel’s settlement activities in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

We’re live-blogging his remarks as well as the issues and disputes that led to Wednesday’s speech. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).

Updates

This live blog has concluded

Mahmoud Abbas's Reaction

In a statement, the Palestinian Authority president said: “The minute the Israeli government agrees to cease all settlement activities ... and agrees to implement the signed agreements on the basis of mutual reciprocity, the Palestinian leadership stands ready to resume permanent status negotiations on the basis of international law and relevant international legality resolutions ... under a specified timeframe.”

Netanyahu's Response

(Baz Ratner / Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed what he called his “deep disappointment” with John Kerry’s speech, calling it almost “as unbalanced” as the UN resolution passed last week.

“Israel looks forward to working with Trump to mitigate the damage this resolution has done and ultimately to repeal it, we hope the outgoing Obama administration will prevent any more damage,” he said.

He added he had no doubt the Israel-U.S. relationship would survive the “profound disagreement we have had with the Obama administration and will become even stronger in the future.”

Watch his remarks here.

RECAP: Kerry Calls Settlements a Threat to Peace

(James Lawler Duggan / Reuters)

Updated at 2:39 p.m. ET

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Israel’s settlement activities, defended the U.S. abstention last week on the resolution at the UN Security Council to criticize settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, said the Israeli government’s policies imperiled the two-state solution, adding that in a “one-state solution, Israel will not be able to be both Jewish and democratic.”

“Settlements are not the cause of the conflict,” he said, “but no one can ignore the reality of the threat they pose to peace.”

The remarks at the U.S. State Department carry little but symbolic weight, given that they come in the last days of the Obama administration. Kerry acknowledged as much, noting that President-elect Donald Trump had different views about settlements and Jerusalem, and may pursue a different path. “That is for them to decide,” he said. “But we cannot in good conscience do nothing and say nothing when we see the hope of peace slipping away.”

Kerry pointed out the obstacles toward having just one state: “So if there is only one state, you would have millions of Palestinians permanently living in segregated enclaves in the middle of the West Bank, with no real political rights, separate legal, education and transportation systems, vast income disparities, under a permanent military occupation that deprives of them of the most basic freedoms—separate but unequal.” he said. “Nobody can explain how that works. Would an Israeli accept living that way? Would an American? Will the world accept it?”

In a more than 70-minute speech, Kerry directly addressed criticism by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “friends don’t take friends to the Security Council,” a reference to the UN resolution whose passage was assured when the U.S. abstained. That abstention has angered Netanyahu and his allies, who have accused the Obama administration of directly orchestrating the resolution—a charge Kerry also denied. The secretary of state said the U.S. did not take its decision at the UN lightly. And, he added: “Some seem to believe that the U.S. friendship means the U.S. must accept any policy, regardless of our own interests, our own positions, our own words, our own principles—even after urging again and again that the policy must change. Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.”

Kerry also rejected the notion that the U.S. action at the UN was unprecedented, pointing out that previous U.S. administrations—both Republicans and Democrats—have allowed resolutions that were critical of Israel to pass, including on settlements, on dozens of occasions. He noted that under President George W. Bush alone, the Security Council passed six resolutions Israel opposed, including one that called for a complete freeze on settlements.

“Let me read you the lead paragraph from a New York Times story dated December 23nd,” Kerry said, “’With the United States abstaining, the Security Council adopted a resolution today strongly deploring Israel’s handling of the disturbances in the occupied territories” – which the resolution defined as including Jerusalem. All of the 14 other Security Council members voted in favor. That story was not written last week; it was written December 23, 1987—26 years to the day we voted last week, when Ronald Reagan was president.”

Kerry, at times sounding pained, directed much of his criticism at Netanyahu’s coalition government, which he called “the most right wing in Israeli history.”  “The result is that policies of this government, which the prime minister himself just described as ‘more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history,’ are leading in the opposite direction, towards one state.” Those remarks reportedly did little to win him friends in the Israeli government, with Netanyahu calling the speech “almost as unbalanced” as the UN resolution.

But in terms of actual proposals to jump-start the moribund peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, Kerry had little new to offer: He called for two states living side by side with Jerusalem as the capital for both (Israel claims the entire city as its eternal undivided capital while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as a future capital), security for both sides, as well as normalized relations. Martin Indyk, the former special U.S. envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, noted on Twitter that Kerry’s call for the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state while not new U.S. policy, was “new as a principle for settling the conflict.”

But the incoming Trump administration has very different views of what an Israeli-Palestinian relationship should look like—and its view is likely to find a more receptive audience in the Israeli government. As the president-elect tweeted this morning before Kerry’s speech:



  

Israel Responds

Here’s Barak Ravid, Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent:


Speech Concludes

Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech on the Israeli-Palestinian issue has concluded. A post with his most salient remarks will be up shortly. You can read the highlights below this post.

Kerry on Trump's Vision for Israel and the Palestinians

John Kerry acknowledged that the incoming Trump administration has a different view of settlements and Jerusalem, and, he said, it’s likely it will “take a different path. That is for them to decide.”

He added: “But we cannot in good conscience do nothing and say nothing when we see the hope of peace slipping away.”

Kerry Denies U.S. Was Behind UN Resolution

“The United States did not draft or originate this resolution, nor did we put it forward,” he said.

As we’ve pointed out, Israel says the Obama administration did just that; the U.S. has vociferously denied it.

Kerry on UN Resolution: 'It Does Not Break New Ground'

John Kerry pointed out that similar resolutions had been passed by the UN Security Council since 1967. And, he said, the U.S. has always maintained that settlement activity is inconsistent with international law.

“It does not break new ground,” he said.

Kerry on Palestinians

The secretary of state accused the Palestinian leadership of not doing enough to criticize terrorism against Israel. “There is no justification for Palestinian terrorism or for glorification of terrorists by Fatah leaders,” he said. He said Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, was rearming and building tunnels, and encouraging attacks on Israeli civilians.

Two States or One?

John Kerry says the two-state solution is imperiled and in a “one-state solution Israel will not be able to be both Jewish and democratic.” He called Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government “the most right wing in Israeli history.”

The “policies of this government .. are leading … toward one state,” he said.

In perhaps the strongest words uttered by an American secretary of state in recent years over Israel’s activities in the West Bank, Kerry said no one fully understands how “broad and systematic the process [of taking over the West Bank] has become.”

“Let’s be clear: Settlement activity has nothing to do with Israeli security,” he added.

'No American president has done more for Israeli security than Barack Obama’s'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is reiterating U.S. commitment to Israel, noting that the Obama administration has done more for Israel’s security than any previous American administration.

“No American president has done more for Israeli security than Barack Obama’s,” he said.

It’s an apparent response to criticism that President Obama is somehow anti-Israeli.

But he adds the two-state solution is “now in serious jeopardy.” And, he adds, the U.S. acted “in accordance with our values” when it abstained at the UN Security Council.

Kerry's Speech Begins

Secretary of State John Kerry has begun sharing what he calls his “candid thoughts” on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

“The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians,” he says.

He says that’s the only way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state, Palestinian freedom and dignity, as well as U.S. interests.

“Friends need to tell each other the hard truths,” he said.

Who Knew What About the UN Resolution?

So far, there have been conflicting accounts of what the U.S. knew about the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement activities in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel contends that the Obama administration goaded its allies on the Security Council to propose the resolution and ultimately abstained during the vote, ensuring its adoption. The Obama administration rejects that account.

Here’s my colleague Uri Friedman on the resolution itself:

The Egyptian government submits to the UN Security Council a resolution against Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This raises the possibility that the Obama administration could express its opposition to Israeli settlement policy by abstaining from the vote, rather than vetoing the resolution as it had with a similar one in 2011. Enraged Israeli officials call up Donald Trump, who tweets that the United States should veto. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt, abruptly calls off the vote. At some point during all this, Trump has a phone conversation with Sisi where they chat about jointly solving various issues in the Middle East. Anonymous Israeli officials, essentially siding with the incoming Trump administration, criticize Obama in unusually harsh terms for plotting with the Palestinians to abandon Israel at the United Nations. A day later, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, and Venezuela reintroduce the resolution, which comes to a vote and is adopted by the Security Council, including Egypt, with the United States abstaining. Barack Obama delivers a powerful parting message to Israel’s leaders that is powerfully undercut by Donald Trump’s opening message. “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” Trump tweets shortly after the vote.

For now, at least, this is one of those issues in which opposing sides can’t agree on what the facts are. Writing in Bloomberg View, Eli Lake says, simply put, he doesn’t believe the Obama administration. Here’s more:

We … know, because it has been publicly reported, that Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about this resolution last month with his counterpart in New Zealand, whose envoy introduced the resolution. As Liel Liebowitz pointed out this week in Tablet,  this is particularly rich given New Zealand's own unsavory history of driving natives off of their land.

Another piece of supporting evidence is that this kind of U.N. action was included in a 2015 policy memo drafted after Netanyahu won re-election and promised supporters there would be no Palestinian state while he was in power. Netanyahu reversed himself after the victory.

But the Obama administration was nonetheless determined to punish him. …

The Israelis themselves certainly saw it coming. Michael Oren, a Knesset member and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., told me on Monday that the Knesset held in-depth hearings to prepare for what Obama would do to Israel in the window between the Nov. 8 election and the Jan. 20 inauguration. "We were not surprised because I know the worldview, I know the president's determination," Oren said. "He doesn't give up on things."  

The New York Times makes a different case:

Mr. Kerry had planned to give the speech last Thursday, ahead of the Security Council vote, but he scrapped that plan the next morning when Egypt, under pressure from Mr. Netanyahu, postponed voting on the resolution. The resolution was taken up by four other nations, led by New Zealand, whose officials say the decision was not based on pressure from the Obama administration or any other nation. …

In the end, Venezuela, Senegal, New Zealand and Malaysia took up the resolution that Egypt had postponed. The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said Thursday he had no idea how the Americans would vote.

On Friday, Council diplomats skipped lunch. They discussed South Sudan. They discussed Syria. Then, after closed-door consultations, they voted on the resolution to condemn Israeli settlement-building.

“We did not discuss the substance of the resolution at any time with the United States,” Gerard van Bohemen, New Zealand’s ambassador to the United Nations, said later, disputing Mr. Netanyahu’s account that the vote was orchestrated in Washington. “We did not know how the United States would vote.”

The surprise was palpable. Román Oyarzun Marchesi of Spain, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council, asked for a show of hands in support of the resolution: 14 hands went up. He asked for a show of hands against: zero hands went up. A gasp was heard in the Council chamber. It meant that the United States, which can unilaterally veto a resolution as a permanent member of the Security Council, had not done so. When Mr. Oyarzun asked for a show of hands in abstention, only Ms. [Samantha] Power [the U.S. ambassador to the UN] put up hers.

The Council chamber broke out in applause.

Two U.S. Presidents at Once?

It’s safe to say that President Obama, under whose watch the U.S. security commitment to Israel actually expanded, has a different view of how Israel should solve its dispute with the Palestinians than President-elect Trump. But as one man is making police in the dying days of his administration, his successor is not only openly criticizing those policies, but also assuring Israel that it will be different under him. Here’s how my colleague Uri Friedman described it:

What happens when the most powerful country in the world effectively has two presidents at once? Its policy regarding one of the most complex conflicts on the planet collapses into a muddled mess.

Or, more precisely, you have what unfolded over the last 48 hours: The Egyptian government submits to the UN Security Council a resolution against Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This raises the possibility that the Obama administration could express its opposition to Israeli settlement policy by abstaining from the vote, rather than vetoing the resolution as it had with a similar one in 2011. Enraged Israeli officials call up Donald Trump, who tweets that the United States should veto. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt, abruptly calls off the vote. At some point during all this, Trump has a phone conversation with Sisi where they chat about jointly solving various issues in the Middle East. Anonymous Israeli officials, essentially siding with the incoming Trump administration, criticize Obama in unusually harsh terms for plotting with the Palestinians to abandon Israel at the United Nations. A day later, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, and Venezuela reintroduce the resolution, which comes to a vote and is adopted by the Security Council, including Egypt, with the United States abstaining. Barack Obama delivers a powerful parting message to Israel’s leaders that is powerfully undercut by Donald Trump’s opening message. “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” Trump tweets shortly after the vote.

  

Read Uri’s piece here.

Netanyahu Responds to Trump

Minutes after President-elect Donald Trump tweeted his message of support to Israel, the Twitter account in English associated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu replied:


Details of the Speech

Kerry’s speech at the U.S. State Department in Washington will begin at 11 a.m. Watch here.

Donald Trump Weighs In

(Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)

President-elect Donald Trump has positioned himself as Israel’s greatest advocate in the U.S. Indeed, he has named David Friedman, who believes Israel can annex and settle in the West Bank, as his ambassador to Israel; Trump has said that he will do what many American presidential candidates have promised but not delivered on: move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; and he pleaded with President Obama to veto the UN resolution last week. Obama did not.

On Wednesday, an hour or so before Kerry’s remarks, Trump tweeted:



Indeed, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has already said that he’s looking forward to working with the Trump administration where his worldview about settlements and the Palestinians will likely find a more sympathetic ear.

The Background to the Speech

John Kerry’s speech comes just days after the U.S. abstained from a UN Security Council vote that criticized Israel’s settlement activities in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. That abstention has resulted in a new low in relations between the two allies; Israel had wanted the U.S. to, as it typically does, veto the resolution. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies even alleged that it was the Obama administration that, in fact, orchestrated the resolution and pressured its allies on the Security Council to adopt it. The U.S. has rejected the allegation. President Obama and Netanyahu have never hidden their mutual dislike of each other, but both have said that U.S.-Israel relations transcend any one leader. Still, Israel has suspended diplomatic relations with those nations that supported the UN resolution—but not the U.S., its biggest diplomatuc backer—and had announced the construction of more homes in East Jerusalem.