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Israeli right-wing officials mock Kerry settlements speech

Filippo Monteforte, AFP Archive | File photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting in Italy on June 27, 2016.

Israel's right wing dismissed US Secretary of State John Kerry's speech Wednesday on the conflict with the Palestinians as irrelevant comments from a diplomat on his way out of office.

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Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Culture Minister Miri Regev were among those to hit back at Kerry, asserting that the US focus on a two-state solution in the Middle East will shift once President-elect Donald Trump takes over.

"Palestine will be taken off the agenda," Bennett, of the hardline Jewish Home party, told the Ynet news site.

He repeated his call for Israel to annex most of the West Bank, which would destroy any hope for a two-state solution -- long the basis of negotiations and which Kerry passionately defended Wednesday.

Kerry's speech included forceful criticism of Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, warning that it was helping put the two-state solution in "serious jeopardy".

Regev, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, took to social media to deride Kerry's comments on Jerusalem, suggesting he should divide Washington instead.

Netanyahu says he still supports a two-state solution, but he has also described his government as Israel's most pro-settlement, leading many analysts to question his sincerity.

Religious nationalists such as Bennett who see the West Bank as part of Israel, pointing to the Jewish connection to the land from the biblical era, hold heavy sway in Netanyahu's government.

‘Warm friendship’

Netanyahu hit back immediately following Kerry's speech, calling it biased against Israel and more focused on settlements than Palestinian violence.

He has lashed out at US President Barack Obama and Kerry in particularly harsh language, blaming them for orchestrating last week's UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to settlement building.

The United States abstained from the vote in a rare move, with the resolution passing 14-0.

"Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders," Netanyahu said on Wednesday night.

After Trump tweeted ahead of Kerry's speech "Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!" Netanyahu responded with a tweet of his own.

"President-elect Trump, thank you for your warm friendship and your clear-cut support for Israel!" he wrote.

Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967. It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community, and Israel now describes the entire city as its "eternal capital".

Concern for Israel

Kerry’s speech was however not dismissed across the board in Israel, with opposition leader Isaac Herzog saying it "expressed a real concern for the security and future of Israel".

Others defended Kerry against charges he was biased against Israel, quoting from the parts of his speech where he expressed his warmth and deep concern for the country.

Indeed, Kerry and Obama have described their criticism of settlements as stemming from their worry that Israel is essentially on a suicide mission.

On Wednesday, Kerry spoke of 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," he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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