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Kerry Slams Netanyahu, Defends US Abstention in UN on Israeli Settlements

© REUTERS / James Lawler DugganU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Middle East peace at the Department of State in Washington December 28, 2016
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Middle East peace at the Department of State in Washington December 28, 2016 - Sputnik International
On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry energetically defended the Obama administration's decision not to veto a UN Security Council bill condemning Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian land. Observers described Kerry's remarks as the toughest criticism in years by a US official of Washington's Israeli ally.

US Secretary of State John Kerry attends a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, December 6, 2016. - Sputnik International
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Speaking to reporters, Kerry blew off allegations by Israel that the US had failed to defend its ally on the international stage, saying categorically that "no American administration has done more for Israel's security than Barack Obama's." The secretary pointed to the massive military assistance the US has provided Israel under Obama's tenure. "More than half of our entire global foreign military financing goes to Israel," he said.

Touching on the vote at the UN Security Council, Kerry said that the US had in fact voted "in accordance with our values." The secretary explained that the US could not condone Israel's illegal settlements on Palestinian land, which threaten the two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Kerry stressed that the US is "fundamentally oppose[d]" to giving "license to unfettered settlement construction.

Kerry made the remarks amid deteriorating relations between Washington and Tel Aviv in recent months. The Obama administration's relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was further soured last week, when the US decided not to veto a draft resolution in the Security Council calling on Israel to immediately halt all settlement activities in Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. The US abstained from the vote despite calls by Israel to veto the measure.

President Barack Obama in the White House Press Briefing Room - Sputnik International
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At Wednesday's press event, the secretary of state stressed that "friends need to tell each other the hard truths," and suggested that US friendship does not mean that Washington will be willing to give up its interests, positions, words and principles.

The secretary of state also slammed Netanyahu, saying the leader had built "the most rightwing [coalition government] in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements."

Calling the two-state solution as "the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians," Kerry said that "if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic. It cannot be both."

Kerry's press conference comes less than a month before President-elect Donald Trump steps into office. Trump criticized President Obama over last week's UN vote, saying that the US "cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect." The President-elect has promised to reverse Obama's course on Israel after his inauguration on January 20. Netanyahu has thanked Trump for his support.

The Israeli Prime Minister's Office rushed to condemn Kerry's speech, calling it "biased against Israel," and suggesting that the secretary of state had "dealt obsessively with the settlements issue," but "almost did not touch on the source of the conflict — Palestinian opposition to the existence of a Jewish state without any borders."

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