Kerry says status quo in Palestine leading to 'perpetual occupation'
WASHINGTON D.C. - US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Wednesday that Israel's settlement building in the West Bank threatens both hope for peace with the Palestinians and the country's own future as a democracy.
In a major speech setting out his vision of a solution to the long-simmering conflict, Kerry sternly warned that Israel was on a course leading to a "perpetual occupation" of Palestinian-owned land.
"Today, there are a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea," he told an audience of diplomats in Washington.
"They have a choice. They can choose to live together in one state, or they can separate into two states," he said.
"But here is a fundamental reality: 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."
In the final days of President Barack Obama's administration, and with Israel's government openly hostile to outside pressure, Kerry wants to leave his mark.
Obama and Kerry are clearly not ready to give up on the region yet, hoping a UN resolution demanding a halt to illegal Israeli settlement building in Palestinian territory, and the secretary of state's speech, will save a moribund process.
Before Kerry took the podium, Israel delayed a vote on permits for hundreds of settler homes at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's request to avoid further conflict with Washington, as Kerry hit back against Israeli claims that Washington conspired behind its back to push the resolution condemning its settlements.
In a clear message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, Kerry suggested that the charge -- which he firmly denied -- could harm Israel's relationship with its most important ally.
"Ultimately, it will be up to the Israeli people to decide whether the unusually heated attacks that Israeli officials have directed toward this administration best serve Israel's national interests and its relationship with an ally that has been steadfast in its support," Kerry said.
"Those attacks, alongside allegations of a US-led conspiracy and other manufactured claims, distract and divert attention from what the substance of this vote really was about."
Friday's UN Security Council resolution passed 14-0, with the United States abstaining. By declining to use its veto, Washington enabled the adoption of the first UN resolution since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy.
Explaining the US decision, Kerry said: "The vote in the UN 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 neighbors," he said.
"The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians," Kerry said, warning that such a solution was now in "serious jeopardy."
Kerry warned the far-right, Jewish fundamentalist "settler agenda" was leading Israeli policy in the West Bank and imperiling prospects for peace.
"No one thinking seriously about peace can ignore the reality of the threat settlements pose to peace," Kerry said in a major speech on Middle East peace efforts.
"But the problem goes well beyond just settlements. Trends indicate a comprehensive effort to take West Bank land for Israel and prevent any Palestinian development there."
Kerry added: "The settler agenda is defining the future in Israel. And their stated purpose is clear: They believe in one state: greater Israel."
Kerry insisted that Israel and a future Palestine should live as two states based on the territory they held before the 1967 Six Day War.
Kerry said "equivalent swaps" of land could happen to modify the border, but only by mutual consent.
"It is up to Israelis and Palestinians to make the difficult choices for peace but we can all help," Kerry said as he laid out the United States recommendations for reviving the peace effort.
Jerusalem, he argued, should be recognized as the capital of both states and those countries that do not recognize Israel as a 'Jewish state' should do so.
Palestinians say the idea of a Jewish state is fundamentally prejudiced given the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Arabs during Israel's formation, the more than 2 million non-Jewish Arab citizens that still reside within Israel's recognised borders and the diversity of the wider religious communities in the Holy Land.
Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi had earlier told CNN that Palestinians would not recognise a Jewish State any more than they would recognise an Islamic State. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat acknowledged the State of Israel's 'right to exist' in 1993.