Israel is bracing for yet another potential clash with the Obama administration in the final weeks before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, as Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to follow up last week’s anti-settlement U.N. censure with a major address on the U.S. vision for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The State Department confirmed Tuesday that Kerry plans to discuss the Middle East peace process on Wednesday.
The Times of Israel and Israel’s Channel 2 report that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is concerned about an Obama administration bid to have the Security Council endorse principles for a Palestinian state, and is reaching out to allies in the U.S. Congress and the incoming Trump administration to try and deter further action against Israel.
Netanyahu reportedly is concerned about what parameters Kerry may lay out for a Palestinian state.
While it is unclear whether the Obama administration would push for any further Security Council action – after a U.S. abstention allowed the anti-settlement resolution to clear the council Friday – the White House and State Department have offered some details about Kerry's planned speech.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told Channel 2 that Kerry will lay out a comprehensive vision for how the U.S. sees the conflict being resolved.
He also rejected Netanyahu’s description of last week’s vote as an “ambush,” citing long-standing concerns from President Obama and Kerry about settlement activity pushing into the West Bank and making a two-state solution more difficult to achieve. Rhodes defended Obama’s support for Israel and, perhaps assuaging Netanyahu’s latest concerns, said the U.S. was not looking to impose a resolution to the conflict via the U.N. measure.
Obama in 2011 publicly called for Israel to pull back to the borders that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War, a call Netanyahu rejected at the time. Netanyahu spokesman David Keyes told Fox News on Monday they were “definitely concerned” when asked about Kerry's planned address.
The Israeli government, meanwhile, continues to insist it has evidence that the Obama administration helped orchestrate last week’s U.N. resolution and vote – and is vowing to share those details with the Trump team. The resolution condemned Israeli settlement activist in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“We have that evidence … we’re going to present it to the new administration, and if they choose to share it with the American people, that’ll be their choice,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer told Fox News’ “Special Report.” “It’s very clear that the U.S. orchestrated that.”
He said an Israeli minister heard “directly” that Vice President Biden intervened to get Ukraine to support the resolution and added, “The evidence we have is much greater than that.”
As for his country’s concerns about Friday’s measure, he said it undermines the peace process by removing a piece of leverage they would have at the negotiating table: territory. He also voiced support for congressional efforts to reconsider funding for the United Nations in the future.
The White House, though, has sought to explain its abstention as rooted in concerns that the settlements themselves undermine the peace process. Spokesman Eric Schultz also pushed back on allegations they orchestrated the vote.
“The US did not draft this resolution nor did the US introduce this resolution,” he said in a statement. “The Egyptians, in partnership with the Palestinians, are the ones who began circulating an earlier draft of the resolution. The Egyptians are the ones who moved it forward on Friday. And we took the position that we did when it was put to a vote."
Kerry also said in a statement after Friday's vote: "Today, the United States acted with one primary objective in mind: to preserve the possibility of the two state solution, which every U.S. administration for decades has agreed is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. ... As a lifelong friend of Israel, I have taken every opportunity to speak out, or cast a vote, to protect its security and the chance for a peaceful future."
The Israelis tried to appeal to Trump last week to help head off the U.N. settlement resolution. While the vote was only delayed to Friday, Trump has resumed his criticism of the international body and vowed changes.
“The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!” he tweeted Monday.