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John Kerry scolds Israel in parting shot

AAP logoAAP 28/12/2016

John Kerry has used one his last speeches as US Secretary of State to scold Israel for expanding its settlements, warning that it has put the two-state solution in "serious jeopardy."

"The settler agenda is defining the future of Israel," Kerry said as he unleashed criticism at the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kerry's hour-plus address focused on outlining his six-point plan for achieving a future agreement between Israel and Palestine. He led the last attempt at brokering peace between the sides in 2014.

But the speech also put a punctuation mark on the Obama administration's often fraught relationship with Netanyahu, and was seen by many as a parting shot after years of frustration with the Israeli leader.

Kerry's remarks come just three weeks before the administration leaves office and a successor chosen by Donald Trump takes over the role of top US diplomat.

Netanyahu fired back, calling Kerry's comments "deeply disappointing" and "anti-Israel."

Israelis "do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace," Netanyahu said in a speech.

"Israel looks forward to working with president-elect Donald Trump and the American Congress."

The turbulent relationship between the White House and Netanyahu came under renewed stress by the US decision last week to abstain from a vote at the UN that condemned Israeli settlement activity, allowing the Security Council to pass the resolution.

Netanyahu had called the move "shameful" and "absurd" and blamed the Obama administration for initiating the resolution - an accusation the White House has denied.

But Kerry said that while the US was not the resolution's originator, the White House made the decision to allow its passage because it would preserve the possibility of a two-state solution to the enduring conflict.

Kerry noted that before last week, the Obama administration had been the only administration since 1967 that had not allowed any UN resolution to pass the Security Council that Israel opposed.

In defending the resolution's passage, Kerry said the US would not have been true to its values if it allowed a "viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our own eyes."

Successive US administrations from both parties have supported a two-state solution, although president-elect Trump recently named an ambassador to Israel that rejects it.

"Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect" Kerry said.

He said trends on the ground between Israel and the Palestinian Territories are "cementing an irreversible one-state reality."

In candid remarks about the current Israeli government, Kerry called it the most right-wing in the country's history, saying it has an agenda "driven by the most extremist elements."

The US cannot be expected to support the agendas of extremists on either side to create a "unitary state," he said.

He complained bitterly about the increased number of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, saying they are putting a peace deal further out of reach and "defining" the country's future.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday that if Israel stops settlement construction, then he will be ready to resume peace negotiations.

"We all know that a speech alone won't produce peace," Kerry said toward the end of the speech. But he encouraged the parties to take his suggestions seriously and create the conditions for successful talks.

Meanwhile Trump took to Twitter before the speech to accuse Obama of treating Israel with "total disdain and disrespect."

"They used to have a great friend in the US, but not anymore," Trump said of Israel.

"Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!" he continued.

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