— CNN (@CNN) December 28, 2016
On Wednesday, John Kerry wound down his Secretary of State run by outlining the Obama administration’s hopes for Middle East peace. As such, he’s defending the U.S. approach to the UN vote on Israel; that is, the U.S. chose not to vote on (i.e., not to veto) a UN resolution (which ended up passing) that condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Kerry argued that this decision was “the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians” through a two-state solution, which he says is in “serious jeopardy.”
According to the New York Times, Kerry delivered the speech that he wanted to make two years ago, but the White House put the brakes on the plan until now. So, Kerry dropped his usual measured manner of speaking and unloaded with a warning to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who Kerry said undermines any chance at a two-state solution. During the hour-long speech, Kerry also accused Netanyahu of supporting Israeli settlements that are “strategically placed in locations that make two states impossible.” Kerry’s critique was an uncharacteristically pointed one, indeed:
The speech came at a moment of tension between the United States and Israel, on a scale rarely seen since President Harry S. Truman recognized the fragile Israeli state in May 1948. In a direct response to Mr. Netanyahu’s barb over the weekend that “friends don’t take friends to the Security Council,” a reference to the Obama administration’s decision to abstain from a resolution condemning the building of new settlements in disputed territory, Mr. Kerry said the United States acted out of a deeper understanding of the alliance.
“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,” he said. “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.”
Although this speech takes the form of an eleventh-hour action, this move was likely meant to cement the Obama administration’s vision on Middle East peace and nothing more. After all, Donald Trump will soon take office, and he’s expressed his intent to cultivate US-Israel relations. Trump, who has previously stated that he “loves Israel,” listened to Kerry’s speech and — of course — took to Twitter with a rebuke. He typed, “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect.” He also urged Israel to “stay strong” until Inauguration Day.
In response, Netanyahu tweeted gratitude to Trump for his “warm friendship” and “clear-cut support.” No matter where one sits on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s truly weird to see a president-elect tweet-conducting policy talks.
In turn, Netanyaho took the podium to express “deep disappointment” with the speech of Kerry, who he accused of being biased against Israel.