Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday offered a defense of the United States’ decision to abstain from a United Nations Security Council vote to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank, arguing that expanding settlements stands in the way of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In his final speech as secretary of state, Kerry spoke for more than an hour about the importance of a two-state solution and said that current Israeli policies regarding settlements put that solution in jeopardy. He argued that by taking a stand against the expansion of settlements, the United States was in fact standing up for Israel.
Kerry previously spent nine months trying to broker peace the in region, but the effort ultimately failed in April 2014. As he leaves his role as the United States’ chief diplomat, Kerry called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take actions that put the region on the path toward a two-state solution, and he laid out the guiding principles that the U.S. would like to see in a final status agreement between Israel and Palestine.
“The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” Kerry said.
He emphasized that America’s abstention from the UN vote was about preserving the two-state solution.
“That’s what we were standing up for,” he said.
Kerry added that a one-state conclusion of the conflict would not allow for Israel to be both a democratic and Jewish state, stressing that the U.S. has pushed for Israel to be both.
The secretary of state also made the case that “no American administration has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama’s.” He said that with the U.N. vote, the U.S. was “trying to preserve” Israel’s security. Kerry noted that the U.S. has supported Israel’s right to defend itself and has aided the country financially. He added that the Obama administration’s commitment to Israel “didn’t change with this vote.”
Kerry also stressed that the U.S. has made it known to Palestinian leaders that they must condemn terrorism and acts of violence, and the secretary of state denounced Hamas’ “extremism.”
“Despite our best efforts over the years, the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy,” Kerry said.
He said that settlements are not the only or primary obstacle to peace, but said that expanding settlements, combined with other factors, could “destroy hope for peace” on both sides of the conflict.
Kerry knocked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition as the most right-wing in history, and he said that policies supporting settlements put the region on the path to a one-state conclusion. And Kerry said that Israel will not find real peace with that path.
Kerry said that peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leader and laid out principles that the U.S. would like to see in a final agreement. The secretary of state said that the agreement must include borders agreed upon by both sides and set up two states, one Jewish and one Arab, both with equal rights for their citizens. He also said that the agreement must allow Palestinians and Israelis to have access to the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Kerry called on both sides to work toward that two-state solution.
“This is a time to stand up for what is right,” he said.