Kerry: 'Israel Can Either be Jewish or Democratic'

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry fired off a volley of criticisms at Israel today in a long-winding, angry argument for a two-state solution, claiming that without such a peace plan that “Israel can either be Jewish or democratic — it cannot be both.”

“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 Israelis and Palestinians. It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbors,” Kerry told an audience in a State Department auditorium.

“It is the only way to ensure a future of freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people, and it is an important way of advancing United States interests in the region.”

Kerry said multiple times that the United States did not use its veto power last week at the UN Security Council to crush an Egyptian resolution condemning Israel settlements because “we could not in good conscience” cast a veto and “the United States did, in fact, vote in accordance with our values.”

“If we were to stand idly by know that in doing so we are allowing a dangerous dynamic to take hold, which promises greater conflict and instability to a region in which we have vital interests, we would be derelict in our own responsibilities. Regrettably, some seem to believe that the U.S. friendship means the U.S. must accept any policy, regardless of our own interests, our own positions, our own words, our own principles, even after urging again and again that the policy must change,” he said. “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.”

Kerry argued that “no American administration has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama’s” in the paternalistic speech that claimed the administration was taking the 11th-hour actions it has “for our sake and for theirs.”

He also added anecdotes in arguing that he knows Israel: “I have climbed Masada, swum in the Dead Sea, driven from one biblical city to another. I’ve also seen the dark side of Hezbollah’s rocket storage facilities just across the border in Lebanon, walked through the exhibits of the hell of the holocaust at Yad Vashem, stood on the Golan Heights, and piloted an Israeli jet over the tiny airspace of Israel which would make anyone understand the importance of security to Israelis.”

“Out of those experiences came a steadfast commitment to Israel’s security that has never wavered for a single minute in my 28 years in the Senate or my four years as Secretary. I’ve also often visited West Bank communities where I met Palestinians struggling for basic freedom and dignity amidst the occupation, passed by military check points that can make even the most routine daily trips to work or school an ordeal, and heard from business leaders who could not get the permits that they needed to get their products to the market and families who have struggled to secure permission just to travel for needed medical care.”

Kerry criticized a mentality “where too often anyone questioning Palestinian actions is an apologist for the occupation, and anyone who disagrees with Israel policy is cast as anti-Israel, or even anti-Semitic.” He acknowledged “there is absolutely no justification for terrorism and there never will be,” adding the administration has “consistently condemned violence and terrorism and even condemned the Palestinian leadership for not condemning it.”

The secretary of State also acknowledged “Hamas continues to pursue an extremist agenda.”

“They refuse to accept Israel’s very right to exist. They have a one-state vision of their own. All of the land is Palestine,” he said. “Hamas and other radical factions are responsible for the most explicit forms of incitement to violence. And many of the images they use are truly appalling and they are willing to kill innocents in Israel and put the people of Gaza at risk in order to advance that agenda.”

Kerry argued “settlement expansion has nothing to do with Israel’s security,” and “if more and more settlers are moving into the middle of Palestinian areas, it’s going to be just that much harder to separate, that much harder to imagine transferring sovereignty.”

“Now, you may hear that these remote settlements aren’t a problem because they only take up a very small percentage of the land,” he said. “Well, again and again we have made it clear it’s not just a question of the overall amount of land available in the West Bank; it’s whether the land can be connected or is broken up into small parcels like Swiss cheese that could never constitute a real state.”

Kerry complained that “Israeli farms flourish in the Jordan River valley, and Israeli resorts line the shores of the Dead Sea…where Palestinian development is not allowed.”

“The settler agenda is defining the future of Israel. And their stated purpose is clear. They believe in one state — greater Israel,” he said. “…If the occupation becomes permanent over the time, the Palestinian Authority could simply dissolve, turn over all the administrative and security responsibilities to the Israelis. What would happen then? Who would administer the schools and hospitals, and on what basis? Does Israel want to pay for the billions of dollars of lost international assistance that the Palestinian Authority now receives?”

He added that without a two-state agreement there would be “an increasing risk of more intense violence between Palestinians and settlers and complete despair among Palestinians that would create very fertile ground for extremists.”

“With all the external threats that Israel faces today, which we are very cognizant of and working with them to deal with, does it really want an intensifying conflict in the West Bank? How does that help Israel’s security? How does that help the region?”

Kerry denied that the United States was the “driving force” behind the Security Council resolution.

“The Egyptians and Palestinians had long made clear to all of us, to all of the international community, their intention to bring a resolution to a vote before the end of the year. And we communicated that to the Israelis and they knew it anyway. The United States did not draft or originate this resolution, nor did we put it forward,” he said. “It was drafted by Egypt — it was drafted and I think introduced by Egypt, which is one of Israel’s closest friends in the region, in coordination with the Palestinians and others.”

He added that “attacks” from Israeli officials over the resolution, “alongside allegations of a U.S.-led conspiracy and other manufactured claims, distract attention from what the substance of this vote was really all about.”

“And we all understand that Israel faces very serious threats in a very tough neighborhood,” Kerry continued. “Israelis are rightfully concerned about making sure that there is not a new terrorist haven right next door to them, often referencing what’s happened with Gaza, and we understand that and we believe there are ways to meet those needs of security.”

Past efforts at negotiations, he opined, “did not fail because the gaps were too wide, but because the level of trust was too low.”

“But if the parties could at least demonstrate that they understand the other side’s most basic needs and are potentially willing to meet them if theirs are also met at the comprehensive negotiations, perhaps then enough trust could be established to enable a meaningful progress to begin,” he said.

The “principles” of a peace deal, Kerry said, need to “provide for secure and recognized international borders between Israel and a viable and contiguous Palestine negotiated based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed equivalent swaps,” “fulfill the vision of the U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 of two states for two peoples, one Jewish and one Arab, with mutual recognition and full equal rights for all their respective citizens,” “provide for a just, agreed, fair and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue” including compensation, “provide an agreed solution for Jerusalem as the internationally recognized capital of the two states and protect and ensure freedom of access to the holy sites consistent with the established status quo,” and “satisfy Israel’s security needs and bring a full end, ultimately, to the occupation.”

“We cannot, in good conscience, do nothing and say nothing, when we see the hope of peace slipping away,” he said. “This is a time to stand up for what is right. We have long known what two-states, living side by side and peace and security looks like. We should not afraid to say so.”