US Secretary of State John Kerry will lay out his vision for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a speech on Wednesday, days after the United States cleared the way for a US resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements.
The speech, less than a month before President Barack Obama leaves office, is expected to be the administration’s last word on a decades-old dispute that Kerry had hoped to resolve during his four years as America’s top diplomat.
It could also be seen in Israel as another parting shot at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had an especially acrimonious relationship with Obama since they both took office in 2009.
The United States on Friday broke with a longstanding approach of diplomatically shielding Israel and abstained on a United Nations Security Council resolution that passed with 14 countries in favour and none against.
Israeli officials described the abstention as a “shameful” decision. President-elect Donald Trump, who urged the White House to veto the resolution, chided the world body as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”
On Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Kerry’s speech would lay out next steps for a peaceful solution based on Israeli and Palestinian states side by side. Toner said the United States hoped the US vote would serve as a “wake-up call” that settlements are a detriment to a two-state solution.
Israel for decades has pursued a policy of building Jewish settlements on territory it captured in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbours, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
New settlement requests
Most countries view the settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees, citing a biblical connection to the land. Washington considers the settlement activity illegitimate.
Undeterred by the US resolution, Israel’s Jerusalem municipality is due to consider on Wednesday requests for construction permits for hundreds of new homes for Israelis in areas captured in 1967 and annexed to the city.
Since learning last week of Kerry’s planned speech, Israeli officials have been concerned he might use the address to lay out parameters for a Middle East peace deal.
Netanyahu’s aides are confident the Trump administration will likely ignore any Obama principles and pay no heed to the US resolution, but they fear Kerry’s remarks will put Israel on the defensive and prompt other countries to apply pressure.
Israeli officials accuse Kerry and his staff of formulating and pushing for the US resolution. The White House strongly denied accusations it “cooked up” the resolution with the Palestinians, and Toner dismissed such claims on Tuesday.
Kerry previously failed to bring about a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in talks that froze in 2014. US officials left little doubt they put much of the blame on Netanyahu’s stance on settlements.
Some 570,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem among more than 2.6 million Palestinians.