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Kerry Cautions Israel: Two-State Solution Is Now In ‘Serious Jeopardy’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Wednesday that Israel’s building of settlements was endangering Middle East peace, expressing unusually frank frustration with the long-time American ally.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shot back at Kerry and accused him of showing bias against the Jewish state.

In a 70-minute speech just weeks before the Obama administration hands over to President-elect Donald Trump, Kerry said Israel “will never have true peace” with the Arab world if it does not reach an accord based on Israelis and Palestinians living in their own states.

His remarks added to strain in the U.S.-Israeli relationship — characterized by personal acrimony between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu — after the United States cleared the way for a U.N. resolution last week that demanded an end to Israeli settlement building.

“Despite our best efforts over the years, the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy,” Kerry said at the State Department. “We cannot, in good conscience, do nothing, and say nothing, when we see the hope of peace slipping away.”

“The truth is that trends on the ground – violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation – are destroying hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want.”

Kerry condemned Palestinian violence which he said included “hundreds of terrorist attacks in the past year.”

His parting words are unlikely to change anything on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians or salvage the Obama administration’s record of failed Middle East peace efforts.

In a statement, Netanyahu said Kerry’s speech “was skewed against Israel.” The Israeli leader said Kerry “obsessively dealt with settlements” and barely touched on “the root of the conflict – Palestinian opposition to a Jewish state in any boundaries”.

The Israelis are looking past Obama and expect they will receive more favorable treatment from Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20. The Republican used his Twitter account on Wednesday to denounce the Obama administration, including its U.N. vote and the nuclear accord it reached with Iran last year.

“We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but not anymore,” Trump said in a series of tweets. “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

Trump had openly lobbied against the U.N. resolution and would be expected to veto any further ones deemed anti-Israel.

He has vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and has appointed as ambassador a lawyer who raised money for a major Jewish settlement, has cast doubt on the idea of a two-state solution and even advocated for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, a notion even further to the right than Netanyahu’s own stance.

IMPASSIONED SPEECH

Kerry’s speech provided some insights into an issue that he personally feels passionate about and had hoped to resolve during his years as secretary of state.

He defended the U.S. decision to allow the passage of a U.N. resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, saying it was intended to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution.

The United States abstained in the Dec. 23 U.N. resolution, in what many see as a parting shot by Obama who had an acrimonious relationship with Netanyahu.

Kerry vigorously defended the U.N. resolution and rejected criticism “that this vote abandons Israel”.

“It is not this resolution that is isolating Israel. It is the permanent policy of settlement construction that risks making peace impossible.”

In a pointed reply to Netanyahu who said last week that “Friends don’t take friends to the Security Council”, and who has insisted the Obama administration had orchestrated the resolution, Kerry hit back, saying: “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.”

Kerry defended Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security and U.S. support for Israel in international platforms. Earlier this year, the United States and Israel agreed a $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade.

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Alistair Bell)

IMAGE: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 23, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz/File Picture

Israel Pressing Ahead With Settlements Despite U.N. Vote

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Jerusalem municipality, undeterred by a U.N. anti-settlement resolution, is due to consider on Wednesday requests for construction permits for hundreds of new homes for Israelis in areas that Israel captured in 1967 and annexed to the city.

Israel is still fuming over the resolution approved last Friday by the United Nations Security Council that demands an end to settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel has also described as “shameful” the decision of its long-standing ally the United States to abstain in the vote rather than wield its veto. The Obama administration is a strong opponent of the settlements.

An agenda published by Jerusalem City Hall listed applications for at least 390 new homes whose approval looks certain to intensify international and Palestinian opposition to the Israeli settlement-building.

The Municipal Planning and Construction panel usually meets on Wednesdays and the permit requests were filed before the Security Council resolution.

Settler leaders and their supporters have been urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step up construction in East Jerusalem, accusing him of having slowed its pace last year because of international pressure.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported on Tuesday that 1,506 housing units for Israelis have already been approved in East Jerusalem this year, compared with 395 in 2015.

The Jerusalem municipality said in a statement on Tuesday it would “continue to develop the capital according to zoning and building codes, without prejudice, for the benefit of all residents”.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem its united capital, a stance not supported by the international community. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

Some 570,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in settlements that most countries consider to be illegal and the United States terms illegitimate. Israel disputes that, citing historical, political and Biblical links to the areas, as well as security concerns.

The new U.N. resolution changes nothing on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians and will probably be all but ignored by the incoming U.S. administration of Donald Trump.

However, Israeli officials fear it could spur further Palestinian moves against Israel in international forums.

A U.S. official said after Friday’s vote that Washington’s decision to abstain was prompted mainly by concern that Israel would continue to accelerate settlement construction and put a two-state solution of the conflict with the Palestinians at risk.

The U.S.-backed peace talks have been stalled since 2014.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis; Editing by Gareth Jones)

IMAGE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office December 25, 2016. REUTERS/Dan Balilty/Pool

Angered By UN Vote Against Settlements, Israeli PM Summons US Envoy

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday summoned the U.S. ambassador to Israel to discuss the U.S. abstention in a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding an end to settlement-building.

Separately, the envoys of 10 other nations were called in to the Israeli Foreign Ministry to be reprimanded on Sunday, and Netanyahu had more harsh words for Washington over Friday’s U.N. vote.

An Israeli spokesman gave no details of when Netanyahu would meet U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro.

The resolution was passed in the 15-member Security Council because the U.S. broke with its long-standing approach of diplomatically shielding Israel and did not wield its veto power, instead abstaining.

Netanyahu put his personal imprint on Israel’s show of anger by repeating at the weekly cabinet meeting what an unidentified Israeli government official contended on Friday – that the administration of President Barack Obama had conspired with the Palestinians to push for the resolution’s adoption.

The White House has denied the allegation.

“According to our information, we have no doubt the Obama administration initiated it (the resolution), stood behind it, coordinated the wording and demanded it be passed,” Netanyahu told the cabinet in public remarks.

Another official said Netanyahu had ordered that for the coming three weeks, until President-elect Donald Trump takes office, cabinet ministers refrain from traveling to or meeting officials of countries that voted in favor of the resolution.

The envoys from 10 of the 14 countries that voted for the settlements resolution and have embassies in Israel – Britain, China, Russia, France, Egypt, Japan, Uruguay, Spain, Ukraine and New Zealand – were summoned to the Foreign Ministry.

Sunday is a regular work day in Israel, but most embassies are closed, and calling in envoys on Christmas Day is highly unusual.

At the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu described a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday, when Israel and President-elect Donald Trump successfully pressed Egypt to drop the settlements resolution it had put forward.

It was resubmitted a day later by New Zealand, Senegal, Venezuela and Malaysia.

“Over decades American administrations and Israeli governments disagreed about settlements, but we agreed that the security council was not the place to resolve this issue,” Netanyahu said.

“We knew that going there would make negotiations harder and drive peace farther away. As I told John Kerry on Thursday, ‘Friends don’t take friends to the Security Council’,” he said, switching from Hebrew to English.

Israel has pursued a policy of constructing settlements on territory it captured in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbors – the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, areas Palestinians seek for a state.

Most countries view the settlement activity as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees, citing biblical and historical connections to the West Bank and Jerusalem as well as security interests.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis; editing by Andrew Roche)

IMAGE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office December 25, 2016. REUTERS/Dan Balilty/Pool