WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Wednesday that the Israeli government was undermining any hope of a two-state solution to its decades-long conflict with the Palestinians, and said that the American vote in the United Nations last week was driven by an effort to save Israel from “the most extreme elements” in its own government.
With only 23 days left as secretary of state, Mr. Kerry, the former presidential candidate who made the search for peace in the Middle East one of the driving missions of his four years as secretary, spoke with clear frustration about Mr. Netanyahu’s continued support of settlements “strategically placed in locations that make two states impossible.” But he spoke knowing that the incoming administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump may well abandon the key principles that the United States has used for decades of Middle East negotiations.
“The status quo is leading toward one state, or perpetual occupation,” Mr. Kerry said, his voice animated. He argued that Israel, with a growing Arab population, could not survive as both a Jewish state and a democratic state unless it embraced the two-state approach that a succession of American presidents have advocated.
The speech came at a moment of tension between the United States and Israel, on a scale rarely seen since President Harry S. Truman recognized the fragile Israeli state in May 1948. In a direct response to Mr. Netanyahu’s barb over the weekend that “friends don’t take friends to the Security Council,” a reference to the Obama administration’s decision to abstain from a resolution condemning the building of new settlements in disputed territory, Mr. Kerry said the United States acted out of a deeper understanding of the alliance.
“Some seem to believe that the U.S. friendship means the U.S. must accept any policy, regardless of our own interests, our own positions, our own words, our own principles — even after urging again and again that the policy must change,” he said. “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.”
Mr. Kerry usually speaks in the careful words of diplomacy, being careful not to publicly name names, or put choices in the harshest terms. He dropped most of those niceties on Wednesday, especially about Mr. Netanyahu’s government.
“The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements,” he said. “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, towards one state.”
It was a remarkable moment in the American-Israeli relationship, and it was a remarkable moment for Mr. Kerry.