Kerry’s attack on Jewish settlements widens Obama-Trump rift on Israel

John Kerry has delivered a stinging rebuke of the Israeli government, accusing it of making the establishment of a viable Palestinian state nearly impossible through the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

With Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu joining forces with president-elect Donald Trump to attack the Obama administration, the US secretary of state said Washington allowed a UN resolution critical of Israel to pass last week as a last-ditch effort to keep the idea of a “two-state solution” alive.

In the most detailed criticism by a US official of Israeli settlement construction, Mr Kerry said the West Bank was being “broken up into small parcels like a Swiss cheese that can never constitute a real state”. In a speech at the state department, he added: “The United States cannot properly defend Israel if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our eyes.”

The US abstention last week at the UN on a resolution condemning settlements prompted a furious reaction from Mr Netanyahu.

As well as aggravating the already toxic relationship between him and President Barack Obama, the furore opened up an unprecedented rift between the sitting Democratic president and his Republican successor, who yesterday pledged to change approach when he takes office next month.

“We cannot let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect,” Mr Trump said on Twitter ahead of Mr Kerry’s speech. “The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.!)” Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

Mr Netanyahu followed suit, saying on Twitter: “President-elect Trump, thank you for your warm friendship and your clear-cut support for Israel!”

The last-minute stance by the Obama administration reflects its concern that time is running out for a two-state solution because of Israeli settlement building. Officials fear the Trump administration could side more openly with the Israeli government in a way that would make further negotiations impossible. Mr Kerry warned Israel against closing off the prospect of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“If the choice is one state, Israel can be either a Jewish state or a democratic state,” he said. “It cannot be both.”

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