As the window of history closes on the Obama administration, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shared what he called his "candid thoughts" on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying the only way to achieve peace is with a two-state solution.
Kerry called on leaders of the Jewish state to accept that a one-state solution will never lead to a lasting peace, and that occupying Palestinian territory is neither a long-term solution, nor one that will satisfy both sides, according to ABC News.
“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," Kerry said, "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."
“Would an Israeli accept living that way?" Kerry asked. "Would an American? Will the world accept it?”
Real peace, the outgoing Secretary of State said, cannot be achieved without concessions from Israel.
Those concessions, according to Kerry, include recognizing that a two-state solution is the way forward, dismantling the thousands of "settlements" the Israelis have built on land seized from the Palestinians, and rolling back the boundaries between Israel and Palestine to the borders that existed in 1967, before Israel began annexing Palestinian territory.
In addition to those concessions, Kerry said, both sides must agree to end hostilities, boundaries should take into account Israel's need to defend itself, and Israel must stop its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Finally, Jerusalem must be accessible to both states.
"President [Barack] Obama has been deeply committed to Israel and its security, and that commitment has guided his pursuit of peace in the Middle East," Kerry said. "This is an issue which all of you know I have worked on intensively during my time as Secretary of State, for one simple reason -- because the two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians."
Kerry framed the two-state solution in terms of its benefits to both sides, arguing that it's in Israel's best interests, as well.
"It is the only way to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbor," he said. "It is the only way to ensure a future, freedom, and dignity for the Palestinian people, and it is an important way of advancing U.S. interests in the region."
Kerry's address comes at a particularly tense time between American and Israeli officials. Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have never quite seen eye to eye. While their relationship has at times been more adversarial than those of previous U.S. presidents and Israeli leaders, their relationship deteriorated even further after the U.S. abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote condemning Israel for building settlements on Palestinian land.
The U.S. has traditionally defended Israel by using its veto power in the Security Council. By abstaining from the Dec. 23 vote, however, the U.S. allowed the U.N.'s condemnation of Israeli settlements to pass and become part of the official record. It was the first time the U.S. had abstained from a critical U.N. vote on Israel since the administration of former President Jimmy Carter, according to The Jewish Press.
Netanyahu saw the move as a betrayal, The Jewish Press reported, and, on Dec. 26, he signaled his defiance by announcing that Israel would go ahead with plans to build more homes and settlements.
The Israeli prime minister also accused Obama of personally orchestrating the U.N. resolution, and of helping to draft its language. In a public statement, Netanyahu suggested Obama's 11th-hour tactics were meaningless during the lame duck portion of his presidency.
“Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike," Netanyahu said, "to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”
Sources: ABC News, The Jewish Press, The Guardian / Photo credit: U.S. Navy by Cmdr. Jane Campbell/Wikimedia Commons