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Secretary of State John Kerry Speaks Live Regarding Israel. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 28, 2016 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:01] JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: So despite the obvious difficulties that I understood when I became Secretary of State, I knew that I had to do everything in my power to help end this 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 our resources to trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict because yes, it would serve American interests to stabilize a volatile region, and fulfill America's commitment to the survival, security and well-being of an Israel, at peace with its Arab neighbors.

Despite our best efforts, over the years, the two state solution are now in serious jeopardy. The truth is that trends on the ground, violence, terrorism, incitement (ph), settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation, they are combining to destroy 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 number -- 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. Now most, on both sides, understand this basic choice and that is why it is 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 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 buildup 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 a "with - and us - you're with us or against us" mentality, where too often anyone questioning Palestinian actions is an apologist for the occupation, and anyone who disagrees with Israel policy is cast as anti-Israel, or even anti-Semitic. That's one of the most striking realities about the current situation. This critical decision about the future, one state or two states, is effectively being made on the ground every single day despite the expressed opinion of the majority of the people. The status quo is leaning 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.

And with this passive resignation, the problem only gets worse, the risks get greater and the choices are narrower. This sense of hopelessness among Israelis is exacerbated by the continuing violence, terrorist attacks against civilians and incitements 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. And 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 murders of innocence are still glorified on (inaudible) websites, including showing attackers next to Palestinian leaders following attacks.

[11:35:00] And despite statements by President Abbas and his party's leaders, making clear their opposition of violence, too often they send a different message by failing to condemn specific terrorist attacks and naming public square, streets and schools after terrorists.

President Obama and I have made it clear to the Palestinian leadership countless times, publicly and privately, that all incitements 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 forum. We have strongly opposed these initiatives, including the recent holy 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 sets back the prospects for peace. And we all understand that the Palestinian authority has a lot more to do to strengthen its 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 the 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 closings of the crossings is dire.

Gaza is home to one of the world 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, food and shelter. Most have electricity less than half the time and only five percent of the water is safe to drink. And yet, despite the urgency of these needs, Hamas and other militant groups continue to rearm and to vert reconstruction materials to build tunnels, threatening more attacks on Israeli civilians that no government can tolerate.

Now at the same time, we have to 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 Israel history with an agenda driven by the 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. They are leading towards one-state.

In fact, Israel has increasingly consolidated control over much of the west bank for its own purposes. Effectively reversing the transitions to greater Palestinian civil authority that was 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 the process has become, but 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.

There's no point in pretending that these are 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.

[11:40:00] 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 United States and the world about Israel's intentions? Let me emphasize, this is not to say that the settlements or the hole or even the primary cause of this conflict, of course they are not. Nor can you say that if the settlements were suddenly removed, you'd 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.

We understand that. Including the new democratic demographic realities that exist in the ground; they would have to be factored in. But if more and more settlers are moving into the middle of Palestinian areas, it's going to be just that much harder to separate, that much harder to imagine transferring sovereignty. And that is exactly the outcome that some are purposefully accelerating.

Let's be clear. Settlement expansion has nothing to do with Israel's security. Many settlements actually increase the security burden on the Israeli defense forces 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're often located on private Palestinian land and strategically placed in locations that make two states impossible. There are over 100 of these outposts and since 2011, nearly 1/3 of them 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 those outposts.

For the first time, it would apply Israeli domestic law to the West Bank rather than military law which is a major step towards the process of annexation. When the law passed first reading in the Israeli Parliament in the Knesset, one of the chief proponents said proudly, and I quote, "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 that the draft law is unconstitutional and a violation of international law. Now, you may hear from advocates that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace because the settlers that don't want to leave can just stay in Palestine like the Arab Israelis who live in Israel. But that misses a critical point, my friends; the Arab Israelis are citizens of Israel, subject to Israel's law.

Does anyone here really believe that 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 - settlements and remain as Israeli citizens in their separate enclaves in the middle of Palestine, protected by the IDF. Well, there are over 80 settlements east of the separation barrier, many located in places that would make the continuous - 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? Now, some have asked "why can't we build in the blocks which everyone knows will eventually be part of Israel?" Well, the reason building there or anywhere else in the West Bank now results in such pushback is that the decision of what constitutes a block 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 be, by most accounts, part of Palestine.

[11:45:00] Bottom line, without agreement or mutuality, the unilateral choices become a major point of contention and that is part of why we are here where we are. Now, you may hear that these remote settlements aren't a problem because they only take up a very small percentage of the land. Well, again and again we have made it clear 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 like Swiss cheese that could never constitute a real state. The more outposts that are built, the more the settlements expand, the less possible it is to create a contiguous state.

So in the end, a settlement is not just the land that 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 people, one community to another; 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 what the settlements pose to that peace. But the problem obviously goes well beyond settlements. Trends indicate a comprehensive effort to take the West Bank land for Israel and prevent any Palestinian development there. Today, the 60 percent 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, much of it is effectively off limits to Palestinian development.

Most today has essentially been taken for exclusive use by Israel simply 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. A lot of people don't realize this. They line the shore 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 an historically high rate. Over 1,300 Palestinians including over 600 children have been displaced by demolitions in 2016 alone -- more than any previous year. So the settler agenda is defining the future of 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, and I quote, "The era of the two-state solution is over," end quote. 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? Why does this matter? Well, ask yourselves these questions. What happens if that agenda succeeds? 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; 40 percent in the West Bank, 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 them of the most basic freedoms. Separate and unequal is what you would have, and nobody can explain how that works.

Would an Israeli accept living that way? Would an American accept living that way? Will the world accept it? If the occupation becomes permanent over the time, the Palestinian Authority could simply dissolve, turn over all the administrative and security responsibilities to the Israelis. What would happen then? Who would administer the schools and hospitals, and on what basis? Does Israel want to pay for the billions of dollars of lost international assistance that the Palestinian Authority now receives?

[11:55:06] Would the Israeli defense force police the streets of every single 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 for 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 that would create very fertile ground for extremists. With all the external threats that Israel faces today, which we are very cognizant of and working with them to deal with, does it really want an intensifying conflict in the West Bank? How does that help Israel's security? How does that help the region? The answer is 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. Now 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 lie, that's not where their politics are. But there is something new here. Common interests in countering Iran's destabilizing activities, in fighting extremists, as well as diversifying their economies, have created real possibilities for something different if Israel takes advantage of the opportunities for peace.

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 years ago. And in all my recent conversations, Arab leaders have confirmed their readiness in the context of Israeli-Palestinian peace, not just on normalize relations, but to work openly on securing that piece with significant regional security cooperation. I

It is waiting, its right there. Many have shown a willingness to support serious Israel-Palestinian negotiations, and to take steps on the path to normalization to relations, including public meetings, providing there is meaningful progress towards the two state solution. My friends that is a real opportunity that we should not allow to be missed. And 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 really what is at stake. Now that is what informed our vote at the Security Council last week. The need to preserve the two state solution and both sides in this conflict must make response ability to do 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 the international forum. We have made countless public and private exhortations to the Israelis to stop the march of settlements. I mean literally hundreds of conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu; I have made clear that continued settlement activity would only increase pressure for international response.

We have all known for some time that the Palestinians were intent on moving forward in the U.N. With a settlements resolution and I advised the prime minister repeatedly that further settlement activity only invited U.N. action.

Yet the settlement activity just increased, including advancing the unprecedented legislation to legalize settler outposts that the prime minister himself reportedly warned could expose Israel's action at the Security Council and international prosecution before deciding to support it.

[11:55:00] 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 conscious turn a blind eye to Palestinian actions that fanned hatred and violence. It is not in U.S. interests to help anyone on either side create a unitary state. And 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 U.N. resolution that makes clear, both sides have to take steps to save the two-state solution while there is still time. And we did not take this decision lightly. The Obama administration has always defended Israel against any effort at the U.N. and any international fora or biased and one- sided resolutions that seek to undermine legitimacy or security and that has not changed, didn't change with this vote.

But remember, it's important to note that every United States administration, Republican and Democratic, has opposed settlements as contrary to the prospects for peace. And action at the U.N. Security Council is far from unprecedented. In fact, previous 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 23rd. I quote, "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 defines as including Jerusalem. All of the 14 other Security Council members voted in favor."

My friends, that story was not written last week. It was written December 23rd, 1987, 26 years to the day that we voted last week when Ronald Reagan was president. Yet despite growing pressure, the Obama administration held a strong line against U.N. action -- any U.N. 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 eight years the Obama administration exercised its veto at the United Nation was against a one-sided settlements resolution in 2011. And that resolution did not mention incitement or violence. Now, let's look at what's happened since then. Since then there have been over 30,000 settlement units advanced through some stage of the planning process. That's right, over 30,000 settlement units advance notwithstanding the positions in the United States and other countries. And if we had vetoed this resolution just the other day, the United States would have been giving license to further unfettered settlement construction that we fundamentally oppose. So we reject the criticism that this vote abandons Israel.

On the contrary, it is not this resolution that is isolating Israel, it is the permanent policy of settlement construction that risks making peace impossible. And virtually every country in the world other than Israel opposes settlements. That includes many of the friends of Israel, including the United Kingdom, France, Russia, all of whom voted in favor of the settlements resolution in 2011 that we vetoed, and again this year along with any other member of the council.

In fact, this resolution simply reaffirms statements made by the Security Council on the legality of settlements over several decades. It does not break new ground. In 1978 the State Department legal advisor, advised the Congress of his conclusion, that Israel's government program establishing civilian settlements in the occupied territory is inconsistent with international law. And we see no change since then to affect that fundamental conclusion.