In a final bid to strike a peace accord as the Obama administration winds down, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry today condemned Israeli settlements while defending the two-state solution, saying it's "the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians."
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Kerry laid out the administration’s final attempt to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians stemming from decades of religious, ideological and territorial warring.
The administration’s plan is not a formal negotiation but rather a framework, including establishing international borders based on territorial lines drawn in 1967; creating two states for Arabs and Jewish people; agreeing to a fair and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue; recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the two states; satisfying Israel’s security needs and ending the occupation while ensuring Israel can defend itself; and, finally, ending the conflict and all outstanding claims, to enable normalized relations and regional security.
About 2.75 million Palestinians are living under military occupation in the West Bank, with limited autonomy, restrictions on their daily movements by a web of checkpoints and the inability to travel into or out of the city without a permit from the Israelis, Kerry said.
“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 them of the most basic freedoms; separate but unequal,” Kerry said.
“Would an Israeli accept living that way? Would an American? Will the world accept it?” he asked.
“This is a time to stand up for what is right,” Kerry said. “We have long known what two states, living side by side, in peace and security looks like. We should not be afraid to say so.”
Kerry, referencing last week's U.N. vote condemning Israeli settlements, for which the United States abstained, 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 U.S. interests to help anyone on either side create a unitary state. 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.”
The decision to abstain from voting broke with decades of U.S. policy that had shunned U.N. resolutions that condemned the settlements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later today issued a firm rebuke of Kerry’s remarks, saying, “We do not need to be lectured."
The speech, Netanyahu added, was “almost as unbalanced as the anti-Israel U.N. resolution from last week."
“I don’t seek applause,” Netanyahu said. “I seek the security and peace and prosperity and the future of the Jewish state.”
But Kerry said earlier today that the United States rejects the "criticism that this vote abandons Israel. On the contrary, it is not this resolution that is isolating Israel. It is a policy of permanent settlement construction that risks making peace impossible."
“Friends need to tell each other the hard truths. Friendships require mutual respect,” Kerry said, seemingly directing his comments toward Netanyahu.
“Here is a fundamental reality: If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or Democratic. It can never be both,” Kerry added.
He also stressed his view that nothing about a two-state solution, meaning an independent State of Palestine next to the State of Israel, would negatively affect Israeli security.
“It is up to Israelis and Palestinians to make the difficult choices for peace, but we can all help. And for the sake of future generations of Israelis and Palestinians, for all the people of the region, and for the United States, for those around the world who have worked for and prayed for peace, let’s hope they, particularly the Palestinians and Israelis, are prepared to make those choices now.
“We must not lose hope in the possibility of peace,” Kerry said. “We must not give in to those who say what is now must always be, that there is no chance for a better future.”