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Israeli right dismisses Kerry speech, waits for Trump


Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.  / AFP PHOTO / SIMON MAINA

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. / AFP PHOTO / SIMON MAINA

Israel’s right wing Thursday dismissed US Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech on the conflict with the Palestinians as a parting shot of little consequence, especially with Donald Trump soon taking office.

One minister repeated his assertion that a Palestinian state will be “off the agenda” once expected ally Trump takes over, while others from what is seen as Israel’s most right-wing government ever mocked Kerry.

“Palestine will be taken off the agenda,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the hardline Jewish Home party told the Ynet news site.

He repeated his call for Israel to annex most of the West Bank, which would destroy any hope for a two-state solution — long the basis of negotiations and which Kerry passionately defended Wednesday.

Kerry’s speech included forceful criticism of Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, warning that it was helping put the two-state solution in “serious jeopardy”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he still supports a two-state solution, but he has also described his government as Israel’s most pro-settlement, leading many analysts to question his sincerity.

Religious nationalists such as Bennett who see the West Bank as part of Israel, pointing to the Jewish connection to the land from the biblical era, hold heavy sway in Netanyahu’s government.

Netanyahu hit back immediately following Kerry’s speech, calling it biased against Israel and more focused on settlements than Palestinian violence.

He has lashed out at US President Barack Obama and Kerry in particularly harsh language, blaming them for orchestrating last week’s UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to settlement building.

The United States abstained from the vote in a rare move, with the resolution passing 14-0.

Netanyahu and other Israeli officials fear a French-organised international Middle East peace conference set for January 15 could result in further moves against the country.

They are concerned any new measures could then be taken to the Security Council for approval before Trump takes office.

– ‘Guarantee of stability’ –
Speaking Thursday at a military ceremony, Netanyahu said: “I want to work with the next American administration to reinforce the security of our two countries.”

“A powerful Israel is an asset for the United States and a guarantee of stability in the Middle East,” he said.

After Trump tweeted ahead of Kerry’s speech “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!” Netanyahu responded with a tweet of his own.

“President-elect Trump, thank you for your warm friendship and your clear-cut support for Israel!” he wrote.

The United States is Israel’s most important ally, providing it with more than $3 billion per year in defence aid, but Obama’s administration has become increasingly frustrated with settlement building.

There had long been speculation that he or Kerry would seek to influence the future direction of the stalled peace process in the last weeks of their administration.

While Kerry’s speech broke little new ground, it included unusually stern criticism of Israel from an American leader.

Kerry said: “The settler agenda is defining the future in Israel. And their stated purpose is clear: They believe in one state: greater Israel.”

Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967. It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community, and Israel now describes the entire city as its “eternal capital”.

Culture Minister Miri Regev, from Netanyahu’s Likud party, mocked Kerry’s comments on Jerusalem, suggesting he should divide Washington instead.

– ‘His own legacy’ –
His speech was however not dismissed across the board in Israel, with opposition leader Isaac Herzog saying it “expressed a real concern for the security and future of Israel”.

Others defended Kerry against charges he was biased, quoting from the parts of his speech where he expressed his warmth and deep concern for the country.

Indeed, Kerry and Obama have described their criticism of settlements as stemming from their worry that Israel is essentially on a suicide mission.

On Wednesday, Kerry spoke of a “fundamental reality.”

“If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic -– it cannot be both -– and it won’t ever really be at peace,” he said.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said after the speech he was ready to resume peace efforts with Israel if settlement activity stops.

But even among those in Israel who supported Kerry’s speech, some questioned the timing.

“John Kerry spoke last night to one person: to himself, to his own legacy,” columnist Nahum Barnea wrote in Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth.

“Benjamin Netanyahu, who rushed to respond, also spoke to one person: ‎to Donald Trump.”

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