WASHINGTON - Remarks by the U.S. secretary of state on Sunday are being quickly interpreted by the Israeli media as harsh criticism and undiplomatic.
Before a predominately pro-Israel audience in Washington, John Kerry warned that the Jewish state is "heading to a place of danger" because of its government’s policies toward the Palestinians.
Kerry, responding to questions from a journalist moderator and several people in the audience at the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum, characterized the long-stalled peace process as “getting worse” and “moving in the wrong direction.”
A “stinging rebuke” is how the independent Times of Israel characterized his remarks in an online headline.
Kerry, while professing a love of Israel and saying that during his tenure he has talked with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more than 375 times and made 40 visits to the country, called Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s recent comments applauding the demise of the two-state solution as “profoundly disturbing.”
Kerry said Israelis should stop waiting for Fatah, which controls the West Bank, to turn into a perfect negotiating partner and told the audience that the United States believes any deal must come with the assurance “of not turning the West Bank into another Gaza,” which is administered by the more hardline Hamas.
Growing frustration in Washington
Obama administration officials last week ruled out any last-minute pressure to be applied on Israel, including at the United Nations.
Kerry said that settling the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is still relevant despite more serious current conflagrations in neighboring Syria and in Iraq.
U.S. officials have grown increasingly frustrated with the Israeli government ignoring American official criticism of settlements in the occupied territories.
Despite the strained relations, the two governments recently finalized a package that sends $38 billion of military aid to Israel over a 10-year period.
The secretary of state said the Arab world is ready to move to a different security posture regarding Israel.
Israel’s new engagement is “quiet, covert with the rest of the Arab world,” former U.S. senator Joe Lieberman told VOA.
The real challenge for the incoming Trump administration is “whether they can prove that some progress is possible between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Lieberman, who was in the audience during Kerry’s remarks.
The two-state solution, which Lieberman supports, is not going to be reached anytime soon, added the former Democratic vice presidential nominee, “but maybe there are some interim steps that can raise hopes” that the Trump administration will be able to work towards.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, speaking to the forum via satellite from Israel prior to Kerry’s remarks, said he will discuss with Trump the West's "bad" nuclear deal with Iran after the president-elect enters the White House.
“I opposed the deal because it doesn't prevent Iran from getting nukes. It paves the way for Iran to get nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said on Sunday.
Trump on the campaign trail, as a Republican candidate for president, called the West’s nuclear pact with Iran a “disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated.”
Kerry on Trump diplomacy
Kerry told the audience at a Washington hotel on Sunday that it would be valuable for the Trump transition team to consult with the State Department before having telephone calls with foreign leaders.
"We have not been contacted before any of these conversations," Kerry told the think tank conference. "I think it's valuable to ask people who work the desk.”
Trump’s conversations in recent days with government leaders - especially those of Pakistan, the Philippines and Taiwan – have generated controversy and the president-elect has been accused of violating diplomatic protocol.
Trump, a wealthy businessman who last month defeated former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for the presidency in his first bid for public office, has no foreign policy experience.
“We’re very sensitive to the fact that for the next six-and-a-half weeks we already have a president and a commander-in-chief and we’re respectful of that fact,” Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway told reporters on Sunday. “So nobody is making policy, nobody is making significant moves in any one direction or the other.”
When President Barack Obama first came to power in 2009 after serving nearly four years as a U.S. senator, he, too, had no foreign policy experience in a leadership position.