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BREAKING NEWS

Kerry rips Israel over settlements

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry tore into Israel on Wednesday for settlement-building, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of dragging Israel away from democracy and forcefully rejecting the notion America had abandoned Israel with a controversial U.N. vote. Netanyahu accused the Obama administration of a biased bid to blame Israel for failure to reach a peace deal.

In a farewell speech, Kerry laid out a two-state vision for peace he won’t be in office to implement but that the U.S. hoped might be heeded even after President Barack Obama’s term ends. He defended Obama’s move last week to allow the U.N. Security Council to declare Israeli settlements illegal, the spark that set off an extraordinary and deepening diplomatic spat between the U.S. and its closest Mideast ally.

“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,” Kerry said in a speech that ran more than an hour, a comprehensive airing of grievances that have built up in the Obama administration over eight years but were rarely, until this month, discussed publicly.

Netanyahu pushed back in a hastily arranged televised statement in which he suggested he was done with the Obama administration and ready to deal with President-elect Donald Trump, who has sided squarely with Israel. The Israeli leader faulted Kerry for obsessing over settlements while paying mere “lip service” to Palestinian attacks and incitement of violence.

“Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders,” Netanyahu said from Jerusalem.

The dueling recriminations marked a low point for U.S.-Israel relations, and a bitter end to eight years of frustrated ties between Obama and Netanyahu, who quarreled repeatedly over settlements, the peace process and Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

It was unclear what impact Kerry’s speech, coming in the final days of the administration, might have.

Netanyahu expressed concern a French-hosted summit next month could lead to an international framework that the U.N. Security Council might then codify with Obama’s assent, boxing Israel in. Yet Kerry seemed to rule out the possibility Obama would take more parting shots, such as promoting that type of U.N. resolution or recognizing Palestinian statehood.

The diplomatic fracas erupted last week when the U.S., in a departure from past policy, decided to abstain rather than veto a U.N. Security Council resolution calling Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem a violation of international law. Israel was incensed, and on Wednesday, Netanyahu claimed Israel has “absolute, indispensable evidence” the U.S. actually spearheaded the resolution.

Netanyahu offered what he called proof of U.S. collusion: a document, leaked to an Egyptian newspaper, that purports to be a Palestinian account of a December meeting between top U.S. and Palestinian officials. But White House spokesman Ned Price called it a “total fabrication” and added: “This meeting never occurred.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded to the speech by reaffirming he’s ready to resume peace talks if Israel halts settlement construction.

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