U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will offer a “comprehensive vision” for how Middle East peace can be achieved in a speech Wednesday in Washington, as Israel steps up its response to a censure from the United Nations over the construction of settlements in the West Bank.
With barely three weeks left in the Obama administration, Kerry will lay out his plan as tensions over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies threaten to leave Israel more isolated internationally. Along with the Kerry speech, France is gathering dozens of foreign ministers in Paris on Jan. 15 to discuss the conflict. Israeli officials say that could result in a proposal they view as unfavorable, which may then be taken to the UN for a seal of approval.
The U.S. last week broke with tradition and decided not to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning the West Bank settlements. Israel has already moved to limit ties with countries that voted for the resolution, rebuked member states’ representatives, recalled ambassadors from co-sponsors New Zealand and Senegal and pledged to cut off nearly $8 million in funding to UN institutions.
Kerry, describing himself as a “lifelong friend of Israel,” defended the U.S. decision to abstain on the vote in a Dec. 23 statement, warning that the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is now in jeopardy, with terrorism, violence and incitement continuing and unprecedented steps to expand settlements being advanced by avowed opponents of the two state solution.”
‘Possibility of Peace’
“That is why we cannot in good conscience stand in the way of a resolution at the United Nations that makes clear that both sides must act now to preserve the possibility of peace,” Kerry said.
Shmuel Sandler, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said Netanyahu is under pressure to respond to the UN vote with a wave of new construction. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, whose Jewish Home party opposes a Palestinian state, has called for Israel to annex large swathes of the West Bank, though Netanyahu has ordered Cabinet members to cease all talk of annexation for now.