EghtesadOnline: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will lay out his vision for Israeli-Palestinian peace in the weeks remaining before the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, according to an aide to U.S. President Barack Obama.
Asked in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 whether the U.S. was planning any initiatives after abstaining in a UN Security Council resolution vote condemning Israeli settlements, Benjamin Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications for Obama, said a Kerry speech was in the works, Bloomberg reported.
“I wouldn’t describe it as new initiatives, I think what Secretary Kerry will be doing is he will give a speech in which he lays out a comprehensive vision for how he sees the conflict being resolved,” Rhodes said.
Israel’s government is now turning its attention to a conference planned for Jan. 15 in Paris, concerned the international community could seek to impose a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to a senior Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive, the government fears foreign ministers in Paris will draft parameters Israel considers unfavorable, and will seek to impose them through the Security Council before Obama leaves office five days later.
“What they’re preparing there in Paris is a modern version of the Dreyfus Trial,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Monday, referencing an infamous 19th-century case in which a French Jewish army officer was imprisoned for treason after a trial marred by anti-Semitism. The difference, he said, is that “this time, the whole people of Israel and the whole State of Israel will be in the guilty dock.”
The tension after the UN vote burst into the open Monday as opposition politicians -- who initially closed ranks against a resolution considered hostile across most of the Israeli political spectrum -- blamed Netanyahu for harming the country’s international standing. Resolution 2334 demands Israel cease construction in all areas it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and describes the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian territory.
“The prime minister was bragging about our foreign relations, and now what’s underway is a total collapse of Israeli foreign policy,” Yitzhak Herzog, co-chair of Israel’s largest opposition party, said at the opening of the Zionist Union faction meeting Monday. He called on Yair Lapid, head of the opposition party Yesh Atid, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose Kulanu party is part of the government, to join him and “stop Netanyahu before it’s too late.”
Israel on Sunday summoned representatives from Security Council members -- including U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro -- and ordered the Foreign Ministry to reduce work ties with countries that voted for the resolution. A day earlier, Netanyahu recalled Israel’s ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal, two of the resolution’s four co-sponsors, ended aid programs to Senegal and pledged to cut off 30 million shekels ($7.9 million) in Israeli funding to UN institutions.
“This is not policy, this is hysteria,” Yesh Atid’s Lapid said Monday. “We have enough haters who want to isolate us, there’s no reason to isolate ourselves.”
Netanyahu defended his reaction to the vote, saying “there’s no alternative to a firm response.”
“Israel is a country with national pride, and we don’t turn the other cheek,” he said Monday at an event in northern Israel. “Countries of the world respect strong countries that stand up for themselves.”
In the days after the vote Netanyahu lashed out at U.S. President Barack Obama, with whom he has had a testy relationship, saying his administration pushed the resolution behind the scenes and had broken a long-standing commitment not to allow the UN to impose conditions on Israel. The U.S. decision to abstain in the vote, rather than veto the resolution, allowed it to pass.
That decision reflected the increasingly strained ties between Obama and Netanyahu. The Security Council vote came in the waning weeks of Obama’s presidency, and Israel looks forward to warmer relations with President-elect Donald Trump, who had pressured Obama to veto the resolution in an unusual breach of transition protocol.
Obama was highly critical of Israel’s West Bank settlements from the moment he entered office. The two leaders then clashed publicly over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, with Netanyahu denouncing it in a speech to Congress that wasn’t coordinated with the White House and that soured relations further.
The Obama administration has denied Friday’s vote breached any U.S. commitments to Israel, saying it’s in keeping with U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinian leaders welcomed the measure’s passage. The office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas described the move as “a big blow” for Israeli policy and a show of unanimous international backing for the two-state solution. Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad also praised the vote.
Under terms of the agreements that have directed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts for more than two decades, borders and settlements are issues for the two sides to negotiate in a final peace deal. Israel says the UN vote will convince Palestinians they can get what they want without having to negotiate, making them more intransigent. Palestinian leaders blame Israel for the collapse of previous peace talks.