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John Kerry Condemns Israeli Foreign Policy Driven By Extreme Right-Wing Elements

“The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements.”

Below is a transcript of his prepared remarks:

Thank you all. It’s good to be here even in the middle of a holiday week. I wish you all a happy and productive new year. Today, I want to share candid thoughts about an issue that for decades has animated the foreign policy dialogue here and around the world – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Throughout his administration, President Obama has been deeply committed to Israel and its security, and that commitment has guided his pursuit of peace in the Middle East. This is an issue which I’ve worked on intensely 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. 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 U.S. interests in the region.

I would like to explain why that future is now in jeopardy, and provide some context for why we could not, 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.

I am also here to share my conviction that there is still a way forward if the responsible parties are willing to act. And I want to share practical suggestions for how to preserve and advance the prospects for the just and lasting peace that both sides deserve. It is vital that we have an honest, clear-eyed conversation about the uncomfortable truths and difficult choices, because the alternative that is fast becoming the reality on the ground is in nobody’s interest – not the Israelis, not the Palestinians, not the region -- and not the United States.

I want to stress that point: My job, above all, is to defend the United States of America -- to stand up for and defend our values and our interests in the world. If we were to stand idly by and 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 US friendship means the US 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. Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect. Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, who does not support a two-state solution, said after the vote last week: “It was to be expected that Israel’s greatest ally would act in accordance with the values that we share” and veto this resolution. I am compelled to respond that the United States, did in fact vote "in accordance with our values," just as previous U.S. administrations have done at the Security Council.

They fail to recognize that this friend, the United States, that has done more to support Israel than any other country, this friend that has blocked countless efforts to delegitimize Israel, cannot be true to our own values -- or even the stated democratic values of Israel -- and we cannot properly defend and protect Israel -- if we allow a viable two state solution to be destroyed before our eyes.

And that’s the bottom line: the vote in the UN was about preserving the two state solution. That’s what we were standing up for: Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living side by side in peace and security with its neighbors. That’s what we are trying to preserve, for our sake and for theirs. In fact, this administration has been Israel’s greatest friend and supporter, with an absolutely unwavering commitment to advancing Israel’s security and protecting its legitimacy.

On this point, I want to be very clear. No American Administration has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama’s. The Israeli Prime Minister himself has noted our unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation. Our military exercises are more advanced than ever. Our assistance for Iron Dome has saved countless Israeli lives. We have consistently supported Israel’s right to defend itself, by itself, including during actions in Gaza that sparked great controversy. Time and again we have demonstrated that we have Israel’s back.

We have strongly opposed boycotts, divestment campaigns and sanctions targeting Israel in international fora, whenever and wherever its legitimacy was attacked, and we have fought for its inclusion across the UN system. In the midst of our own financial crisis and budget deficits, we repeatedly increased funding to support Israel. In fact, more than half of our entire global Foreign Military Financing goes to Israel. And this fall, we concluded an historic 38 billion dollar Memorandum of Understanding that exceeds any military assistance package the U.S. has provided to any country, at any time, and that will invest in cutting edge missile defense, and sustain Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge for years to come. This commitment to Israel’s security is very personal for me.

On my first trip to Israel as a young senator in 1986, I was captivated by a special country I immediately admired and soon grew to love. Over the years, like so many others who are drawn to this extraordinary place, I have climbed Masada, swum in the Dead Sea, driven from one Biblical city to another. I have also seen the dark side of Hezbollah’s rocket storage facilities just across the border in Lebanon, walked through exhibits on 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 4 years as Secretary.

I have also often visited West Bank communities, where I met Palestinians struggling for basic freedom and dignity amidst the occupation, passed by the military checkpoints 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 needed to get their products to the market and families who have struggled to secure permission to travel for needed medical care.

And I have witnessed first-hand the ravages of a conflict that has gone on for far too long. I’ve seen Israeli children in Sderot whose playgrounds had been hit by Katyusha rockets, and visited shelters next to schools in Kiryat Shmona that kids had 15 seconds to get to after a warning siren went off. I’ve also seen the devastation of war in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian girls in Izbet Abed Rabo played in the rubble of a bombed-out building.

No children – Israeli or Palestinian -- should have to live like that.

So, despite the obvious difficulties, I knew when I became Secretary of State I would do everything in my power to help end the conflict. And I was grateful to be working for President Obama, who was prepared to take risks for peace and was deeply committed to that effort. Like previous U.S. administrations, we have committed our influence and resources to trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict because it would serve American interests to stabilize a volatile region and fulfil America’s commitment to the survival, security and well-being of Israel at peace with its Arab neighbors. Despite our best efforts over the years, the two state solution is now in serious jeopardy.

The truth is that trends on the ground –violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation – are destroying hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want. Today, there are a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. They have a choice. They can choose to live together in one state, or they can separate into two states. But here is 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.

Moreover, the Palestinians will never fully realize their vast potential in a homeland of their own with a one state solution. Most on both sides understand this basic choice, and that’s why it’s important that polls of Israelis and Palestinians show there is still strong support for the two state solution – in theory. They just don’t believe that it can happen. After decades of conflict, many no longer see the other side as people, only as threats and enemies. Both sides continue to push a narrative that plays to people’s fears and reinforces the worst stereotypes – rather than working to change perceptions and build up belief in the possibility of peace.

And the truth is, the extraordinary polarization in this conflict extends beyond Israelis and Palestinians. Allies of both sides are content to reinforce this “with us or against us mentality” where too often anyone who questions Palestinian actions is an apologist for the occupation and anyone who disagrees with Israeli policy is cast as anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic. That’s one of the most striking realties about the current situation: This critical decision about the future – one state or two states -- is effectively being made on the ground every day, despite the expressed opinion of the majority of the people. The status quo is leading towards one state and perpetual occupation, but most of the public either ignores it or has given up hope that anything can be done to change it. With this passive resignation, the problem only gets worse, the risks get greater and the choices are narrowed. This sense of hopelessness among Israelis is exacerbated by the continuing violence, terrorist attacks against civilians and incitement – which are destroying belief in the possibility of peace.

Let me say it again: There is absolutely no justification for terrorism, and there never will be. The most recent wave of Palestinian violence has included hundreds of terrorist attacks in the past year, including stabbings, shootings, vehicular attacks and bombings, many by individuals who have been radicalized by social media. Yet the murderers of innocents are still glorified on Fatah web sites, including showing attackers next to Palestinian leaders following attacks. And despite statements by President Abbas and his party’s leaders making clear their opposition to violence, too often they send a different message by failing to condemn specific terrorist attacks and naming public squares, streets and schools after terrorists. President Obama and I have made clear to the Palestinian leadership countless times, publicly and privately, that all incitement to violence must stop. We have consistently condemned violence and terrorism – and even condemned the Palestinian leadership for not condemning it. Far too often, the Palestinians have pursued efforts to delegitimize Israel in international fora. We have strongly opposed these initiatives, including the recent wholly unbalanced and inflammatory UNESCO resolution regarding Jerusalem. And we have made clear our strong opposition to Palestinian efforts against Israel at the ICC, which only set back the prospects for peace. And we all understand that the Palestinian Authority also has more to do to strengthen institutions and improve governance.

Most troubling of all, 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. Hamas and other radical factions are responsible for 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. Compounding this, the humanitarian situation in Gaza, exacerbated by the closures of the crossings, is dire. Gaza is home to one of the world’s densest concentrations of people enduring extreme hardships with few opportunities.1.3 million people out of Gaza’s population of 1.8 million are in need of daily assistance, including food and shelter, most have electricity less than half the time, and only 5 percent of the water is safe to drink. And yet despite the urgency of these needs, Hamas and other militant groups continue to re-arm and divert reconstruction materials to build tunnels, threatening more attacks on Israeli civilians that no government can tolerate. At the same time, we must be clear about what is happening in the West Bank.

The Israeli Prime Minister publicly supports a two state solution, but his current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements. The result is that policies of this government – which the Prime Minister himself just described as “more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history” – are leading in the opposite direction, towards one state. In fact, Israel has increasingly consolidated control over much of the West Bank for its own purposes – effectively reversing the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority called for by the Oslo accords. I don’t think most people in Israel – and certainly in the world – have any idea how broad and systematic this process has become. The facts speak for themselves. The number of settlers in the roughly 130 Israeli settlements east of the 1967 lines has steadily grown. The settler population in the West Bank alone – not including East Jerusalem – has increased by nearly 270,000 since Oslo, including 100,000 just since 2009 when President Obama’s term began. And there is no point pretending they’re just in large settlement blocs: nearly 90,000 settlers are living east of the separation barrier that was created by Israel itself, in the middle of what by any reasonable definition would be the future Palestinian state. And the population of these distant settlements has grown by 20,000 just since 2009. In fact, just recently the government approved a significant new settlement well east of the barrier – closer to Jordan than Israel. What does that say to Palestinians in particular – but also to the U.S and the world –about Israel’s intentions? Let me emphasize: this is not to say that the settlements are the whole or even primary cause of the conflict – of course they are not. Nor can you say that if they were removed you would have peace without a broader agreement – you would not. And we understand that in a final status agreement, certain settlements would become part of Israel to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 49 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground. But if more and more settlers are moving into the middle of the Palestinian areas, it’s going to be that much harder to separate, that much harder to imagine transferring sovereignty – and that is exactly the outcome that some are accelerating. Let’s be clear: settlement expansion has nothing to do with Israel’s security; many settlements actually increase the security burden on the IDF. And leaders of the settler movement are motivated by ideological imperatives that entirely ignore legitimate Palestinian aspirations.

Among the most troubling illustrations of this point has been the proliferation of settler outposts that are illegal under Israel’s own laws. They are often located on private Palestinian land and strategically placed to make two states impossible. There are over 100 of these outposts, and since 2011, nearly one third have been – or are being – legalized, despite pledges by past Israeli governments to dismantle many of them. Now, leaders of the settler movement have advanced unprecedented new legislation that would legalize most of the outposts. For the first time, it would apply Israeli domestic law to the West Bank – rather than military law – a major step towards annexation. When the law passed first reading in the Knesset, one of its chief proponents said proudly: “Today the Israeli Knesset moved from heading towards establishing a Palestinian state towards [Israeli] sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.” Even the Israeli Attorney General has said the draft law is unconstitutional and a violation of international law. Now you may hear that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace because the settlers who don’t want to leave can just stay in Palestine, like the Arab Israelis who live in Israel. But that misses a critical point: the Arab Israelis are citizens of Israel, subject to Israel’s laws. Does anyone really believe the settlers will agree to submit to Palestinian law in Palestine? Likewise, some supporters of the settlements argue that the settlers could just stay in their settlements, and remain as Israeli citizens in their separate enclaves in the middle of Palestine, protected by the IDF.

There are over 80 settlements east of the separation barrier, many located in places that would make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. Does anyone seriously think that if they just stay where they are you could still have a viable Palestinian state? Some have asked, "Why can't we build in the blocs which everyone knows will eventually be part of Israel?" The reason building there or anywhere else in the West Bank now results in such pushback is that the decision of what constitutes a bloc is being made unilaterally by the Israeli government, without consultation, without the consent of the Palestinians – and without granting the Palestinians a reciprocal right to build in what will by most accounts be part of Palestine. Bottom line – without agreement or mutuality, the unilateral choices become a major point of contention. You may hear that these remote settlements aren’t a problem because they only take up a small percentage of the land. Again and again we have made clear that 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 that could never constitute a real state.

The more outposts that are built, the more settlements expand, the less possible it is to create a contiguous state. So in the end, a settlement is not just the land it's on, it's also what the location does to the movement of people, what it does to the ability of a road to connect, what it does to the sense of statehood that is chipped away with each new construction. No one thinking seriously about peace can ignore the reality of the threat settlements pose to peace. But the problem goes well beyond just settlements: trends indicate a comprehensive effort to take West Bank land for Israel and prevent any Palestinian development there.

Today, the 60% of the West Bank known as Area C – much of which was supposed to be transferred to Palestinian control long ago under the Oslo accords – is effectively off limits to Palestinian development. Most has essentially been taken for exclusive Israeli use by unilaterally designating it as “state land” or including it within the jurisdiction of regional settlement councils. Israeli farms flourish in the Jordan River Valley and Israeli resorts line the shores of the Dead Sea – where Palestinian development is not allowed. In fact, almost no private Palestinian building is approved in Area C at all – only one permit was issued by Israel in all of 2014 and 2015, while approvals for hundreds of settlement units were advanced during that same period. Moreover, Palestinian structures in Area C that do not have a permit from the Israeli military are potentially subject to demolition. And they are currently being demolished at historically high rates: over 1,300 Palestinians, including over 600 children, have been displaced in 2016 alone -- more than any previous year. So the settler agenda is defining the future in Israel. And their stated purpose is clear: They believe in one state: greater Israel. In fact, one prominent minister who heads a pro-settler party declared just after the U.S. election that “the era of the two state solution is over,” and many other coalition ministers publicly reject a Palestinian state. And they are increasingly getting their way, with plans for hundreds of new units in East Jerusalem recently announced and talk of a major new settlement building effort in the West Bank to follow.

So why are we so concerned? Well ask yourself these questions: What happens if they succeed? Where does that lead? There are currently about 2.75 million Palestinians living under military occupation in the West Bank, most of them in Areas A and B where they have limited autonomy. They are restricted in their daily movements by a web of checkpoints, and unable to travel into or out of the West Bank without a permit from the Israelis. So if there is only one state, you would have millions of Palestinians permanently living in segregated enclaves in the middle of the West Bank, with no real political rights, separate legal, education and transportation systems, vast income disparities, under a permanent military occupation that deprives of them of the most basic freedoms – separate but unequal. Nobody can explain how that works. Would an Israeli accept living that way? Would an American? Will the world accept it? If the occupation becomes permanent, over time the Palestinian Authority could dissolve and turn over all administrative and security responsibilities to the Israelis. What would happen then? Who would administer the schools and hospitals? Does Israel want to pay for the billions of dollars of lost international assistance that the PA now receives? Would the Israel Defense Force police the streets in every Palestinian city and town?

How would Israel respond to a growing civil rights movement from Palestinians demanding a right to vote, or widespread protests and unrest across the West Bank? How does Israel reconcile a permanent occupation with its democratic ideals? How does the U.S. continue to defend that and still live up to our own democratic ideals? Nobody has ever provided good answers to those questions because there aren’t any. And there would be an increasing risk of more intense violence between Palestinians and settlers, and complete despair among Palestinians would create fertile ground for extremists. With all the external threats Israel faces, does it really want an intensifying conflict in the West Bank? How does that help Israel’s security? The answer: It doesn’t. Which is precisely why so many senior Israeli military and intelligence leaders – past and present - believe the two-state solution is the only real answer for Israel’s long term security. One thing we do know: if Israel goes down the one state path, it will never have true peace with the rest of the Arab world, and I can say that with certainty.

The Arab countries have made clear that they will not make peace with Israel without resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- that’s not where their loyalties or their politics are. But there is something new here. Common interests in countering Iran’s destabilizing activities and fighting extremists as well as diversifying their economies have created real possibilities. I have spent a great deal of time with key Arab leaders exploring this, and there is no doubt that they are prepared to have a fundamentally different relationship with Israel. That was stated in the Arab Peace Initiative, and all my recent conversations have confirmed their readiness, in the context of Israeli-Palestinian peace, not just to normalize relations -- but to work openly on securing that peace with significant regional security cooperation.

Many have shown a willingness to support serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and to take steps on the path to normalization of relations – including public meetings -- providing there is meaningful progress towards a two state solution. That is a real opportunity that should not be missed. That raises one final question: is ours the generation that gives up on the dream of a Jewish, democratic state of Israel living in peace and security with its neighbors? Because that is literally what is at stake. That is what informed our vote at the Security Council last week: the need to preserve the two state solution. And both sides must take responsibility for that.

We have repeatedly and emphatically stressed to the Palestinians that all incitement to violence must stop. We have consistently condemned all violence and terrorism. And we have strongly opposed unilateral efforts to delegitimize Israel in international fora. We have made countless public and private exhortations to the Israelis to stop the march of settlements. In literally hundreds of conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I have made clear that continued settlement activity would only increase pressure for an international response. We have all known for some time that the Palestinians were intent on moving forward with a settlements resolution, and I advised the Prime Minister repeatedly that further settlement activity only invited UN action. Yet the settlement activity only increased – including advancing the unprecedented legislation to legalize settler outposts that the Prime Minister himself reportedly warned could expose Israel to action at the Security Council and even international prosecution, before deciding to support it. In the end, we could not in good conscience protect the most extreme elements of the settler movement as it tries to destroy the two state solution. We could not in good conscience turn a blind eye to Palestinian actions that fan hatred and violence. It is not in U.S. interests to help anyone on either side create a unitary state. We may not be able to stop them, but we cannot be expected to defend them. And it is certainly not the role of any country to vote against its own policies.

That is why we decided not to block the UN resolution that makes clear both sides have to take steps to save the two state solution while there is still time. We did not take this decision lightly. The Obama administration has always defended Israel against any efforts at the UN and any international fora, or biased and one-sided resolutions that seek to undermine its legitimacy or security. And that has not changed. But it’s important to remember that every U.S. administration – Republican and Democratic – has opposed settlements as contrary to the prospects for peace. And action at the UN Security Council is far from unprecedented: In fact, previous U.S. Administrations of both political parties have allowed resolutions that were critical of Israel to pass, including on settlements, on dozens of occasions. Under George W. Bush alone, the Council passed six resolutions that Israel opposed – including one that endorsed a plan calling for a complete freeze on settlements, including natural growth. Let me read you the lead paragraph from a New York Times story dated December 23nd: “With the United States abstaining, the Security Council adopted a resolution today strongly deploring Israel’s handling of the disturbances in the occupied territories” – which the resolution defined as including Jerusalem. All of the 14 other Security Council members voted in favor.

That story was not written last week; it was written December 23, 1987 -- 26 years to the day we voted last week, when Ronald Reagan was president. Yet despite growing pressure, the Obama administration held a strong line against any UN action - we were the only administration since 1967 that had not allowed any resolution to pass that Israel opposed. In fact, the only time in 8 years the Obama administration exercised its veto at the United Nations was against a one-sided settlements resolution in 2011 that did not mention incitement or violence. Let’s look at what’s happened since then: There have been over 30,000 settlement units advanced through some stage of the planning process. That’s right: over thirty thousand settlement units. And if we had vetoed this resolution, the United States would have been giving license to further unfettered settlement construction