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John Kerry Defends And Outlines U.S. Approach In Israel


Secretary of State John Kerry is warning Israel that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be in jeopardy because of the growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. As NPR's Jackie Northam reports, Kerry's speech comes at a tense time between Israel and the Obama administration.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: John Kerry's speech comes just days after the Obama administration refused to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that declared Israel's settlements as a flagrant violation of international law. It was a move that infuriated Israel's leadership, and Kerry spent a good part of the speech defending the decision, the reasoning behind it, saying the vote in the U.N. was about preserving the two-state solution.


JOHN KERRY: 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.

NORTHAM: Kerry chastised Israel for its fierce attacks against the Obama administration since the U.S. decided to abstain. That includes claiming the U.S. orchestrated the resolution, something Kerry clearly denied during the speech.


KERRY: They fail to recognize that this friend, the United States of America, that has done more to support Israel than any other country cannot be true to our own values if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our own eyes.

NORTHAM: Kerry warned that Israel faces a stark choice.


KERRY: If the choice is one-state, Israel can either be Jewish or Democratic. It cannot be both.

NORTHAM: Throughout his more-than-an-hour-long speech, Kerry condemned the settlements which have swelled in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Middle East Policy, says the Obama administration has grown increasingly concerned that Israel was heading to a perpetual occupation. Sachs says Kerry's speech had been long thought out and carefully planned.

NATAN SACHS: It was very forceful, and this is the way the State Department has been speaking privately for a while and not just privately.

NORTHAM: Kerry's speech was not well received by the Israeli leadership. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was deeply disappointed that Kerry focused on settlements and barely touched upon what he called the root of the conflict - Palestinian opposition to a Jewish state. Netanyahu called the speech almost as unbalanced as last week's U.N. resolution.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders.

NORTHAM: Netanyahu had warmer words for President-elect Donald Trump, who tweeted shortly before Kerry's speech that the U.S. cannot continue to treat Israel with disdain and disrespect. Netanyahu responded with his own tweet, thanking Trump for his clear-cut support for Israel and followed that up later in his televised statement.


NETANYAHU: Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with the American Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, to mitigate the damage that this resolution has done and ultimately to repeal it.

NORTHAM: But 14 other countries condemned Israel's settlements, which means the issue will still be around after the Obama administration leaves office. Jackie Northam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.