Kerry Slams Israeli Settlement Expansion, Says Israel Heading in ‘Wrong Direction’

United States Secretary of State John Kerry delivered harsh criticism of the Israeli government’s settlement expansion policies at the Saban Forum in Washington D.C. on Sunday, saying “things are moving in the wrong direction” regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace.

An annual dialogue between American and Israeli leaders from across the political and social spectrum, the Saban Forum is organized by the Center for Middle East Policy — formerly the Saban Center — at the Brookings Institution in the US capitol. It is known for its pro-Israel agenda and close relations with Israeli officials and lobbyists. 

During a question and answer style talk, Kerry began by expressing his “genuine passion” for the state of Israel as a place where “people could be protected” and “an example to the world of democracy and freedom and rights and rule of law.”

However, Kerry harshly criticized Israel’s controversial “formalization” bill — that would see dozens of illegal Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank retroactively legalized and thousands of dunams of privately-owned Palestinian land seized. The bill was scheduled to be voted on by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, later on Monday.

During the Saban Forum on Friday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested that the bill should be postponed until US President Barack Obama leaves office, expressing his hopes that President-Elect Donald Trump would play an “active role” in Middle Eastern politics.

Kerry continued in his talk to say that Israel “is ignoring all our warnings regarding settlements,” adding that “things were moving in the wrong direction.”

He said Israel’s right-wing government and ministers did not want and were not working towards a two-state solution, which the United States and other foreign peace brokers have been regarding for decades as the ideal solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry called statement’s like that of Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, who said the “era of the Palestinian state is over” following the election of US President-Elect Donald Trump, “profoundly disturbing.”

“More than 50 percent of the ministers in the current (Israeli) government have publicly stated they are opposed to a Palestinian state and there will be no Palestinian state. So this is the predicament. This is where we find ourselves,” Kerry said.

Kerry highlighted that every sitting American president, both Democrat and Republican, has been opposed to settlement building.

“We issue a warning today when we see a new settlement announced. Nothing happens. It’s ignored (by the Israeli government), a new settlement goes up. New units, new sales.”

The continued expansion of Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law, has caused an “erosion” in the peace process in the past, and continues to “narrow and narrow the capacity for peace,” according to Kerry.

Kerry went on to highlight the destructive nature of settlement expansion on Palestinian livelihood, saying “there are currently about 11,000 demolition orders for Palestinian homes through the West Bank,” and that in 2014 and 2015, Israel issued only one permit to Palestinians to build in Area C, the area of the West Bank under full Israeli military and civilian control.

Human rights groups and international leaders have strongly condemned Israel’s settlement construction, claiming it is a strategic maneuver to prevent the establishment of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state by changing the facts on the ground.

(Ma’an, PC, Social Media)

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