JERUSALEM — President-elect Donald Trump tweeted messages Wednesday showing his support for Israel and accusing President Obama of making inflammatory statements and damaging relations between Israel and the United States.
Trump tweeted that he could no longer allow Israel to be treated with disdain and urged Israel to “stay strong” until he takes office on Jan. 20.
In response Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted: “President-elect Trump, thank you for your warm friendship and your clear-cut support for Israel!” The tweet included Israeli and U.S. flags and tagged two of Trump’s children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr.
The messages came hours before Secretary of State John F. Kerry delivered a speech outlining the Obama administration's vision for resolving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. On Friday, the United States, in a break with a long-standing policy, decided not to use its veto power to prevent the passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution criticizing Israeli settlements.
Speaking at the State Department, Kerry said the U.S. decision was aimed at “preserving the two-state solution,” which he called “the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” If the United States allowed “a dangerous dynamic to take hold,” Kerry said, referring to increased Israeli settlement activity and implicit rejection of a Palestinian state, “we would be derelict in our own responsibilities.”
He denounced what he described as Israeli steps toward effective “annexation” of the West Bank in an effort to create one state, a “greater Israel,” instead of accepting an adjacent Palestinian state.
Kerry said: “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths. And friendships require mutual respect. . . . We cannot be true to our own values or even the stated democratic values of Israel . . . if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our eyes.”
He enumerated a series of principles for a peace agreement, starting with secure borders for both states based on Israeli’s pre-1967 boundaries, with mutually agreed land swaps.
Netanyahu’s office promptly retorted by denouncing Kerry’s speech as “skewed” and saying it “obsessively” focused on settlements.
In subsequent televised remarks, Netanyahu said he had “iron-clad proof” that the United States organized the U.N. resolution, a charge that Kerry and other U.S. officials denied. The Israeli leader expressed “great disappointment” with Kerry’s speech, calling it “unbalanced” and saying it paid only “lip service” to combating Palestinian terrorism.
Netanyahu said he did not need to be “lectured about peace by foreign leaders,” and he blamed the continuing conflict not on Israeli settlements but on what he said was “the persistent Palestinian refusal” to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Ahead of Kerry's speech, senior Israeli minister Gilad Erdan said that if Kerry laid out principles for a peace deal at the last minute before leaving office, it would end up ensuring that the Palestinians never agree to negotiations with Israel. He called the U.S. position “pro-Palestinian,” “pathetic” and a sign that the Obama administration does not “understand what is happening in the Middle East.”
Since Friday's resolution, Israel has accused Obama and his advisers of failing to protect Israel and of “colluding” with the Palestinians to draft the resolution and push it to a vote.
The resolution, which passed by 14 votes to 0, with the United States abstaining, declares that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have “no legal validity” and are a barrier to achieving peace with the Palestinians.
Following the vote, Netanyahu ordered diplomatic moves against countries that voted for the resolution. He summoned the envoys of the countries involved and recalled Israel's ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, two of the four countries that submitted the resolution.
On Wednesday, however, Netanyahu seemed to tone down his actions, instructing the Jerusalem municipality to hold off on approving new housing units in a bid to avoid further strain in U.S.-Israeli relations, a local official said.
Jerusalem’s Municipal Planning and Construction Committee had been scheduled to finalize construction plans for some 492 new homes in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, despite the resolution. It went ahead, however, with approval of plans for a new building in a Palestinian neighborhood in the city, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
Hanan Rubin, a member of Jerusalem’s city council, confirmed that the request to postpone construction plans came directly from the prime minister, who wanted to avoid deepening the rift. He said the zoning committee agreed to abide by it because they had no interest in “causing a political storm.”
“Our goal is to provide solutions to residents of Jerusalem. We have a problem building in central Jerusalem, and this is a natural expansion for the city,” he said. The 492 housing units are part of a wider plan to build in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, an area the Palestinians would like to see as their capital of a future state.
On Tuesday, the Israeli government appeared to be stepping up its battle with the Obama administration, saying it had solid proof that the United States orchestrated the resolution.
On Wednesday, an Egyptian website, el-Youm el-Sabaa, said it had a copy of minutes from a meeting held 10 days before the vote and attended by Kerry, national security adviser Susan E. Rice, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Saeb Erekat and Majid Faraj, commander of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service. The United States allegedly said it was willing to withhold its veto power if the resolution was balanced.
The State Department denied the account. And Erekat released a statement Wednesday saying that the leaked minutes of the meeting with Kerry were a fabrication.
Morello reported from Washington. William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.