Theresa May's criticism of John Kerry Israel speech sparks blunt US reply

State department voices surprise after PM’s spokesman says US secretary of state’s comments on settlements were ‘inappropriate’

Theresa May has distanced the UK from Washington over John Kerry’s condemnation of Israel, in comments that appear to be designed to build bridges with the incoming Trump administration.

Kerry, the outgoing secretary of state, delivered a robust speech this week that criticised Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as the “most rightwing coalition in Israeli history” and warned that the rapid expansion of settlements in the occupied territories meant that “the status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation”.

The prime minister’s spokesman said May thought it was not appropriate to make such strongly worded attacks on the makeup of a government or to focus solely on the issue of Israeli settlements.

“We do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally,” he said. “The government believes that negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between the two parties, supported by the international community.”

John Kerry: Israel must adopt two-state solution for lasting peace

The UK backed the UN resolution passed last week that condemned the continued expansion of settlements. But May’s spokesman said she was concerned about the language Kerry had used.

“We continue to believe that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal, which is why we supported UN security council resolution 2334 last week.

“But we are also clear that the settlements are far from the only problem in this conflict. In particular, the people of Israel deserve to live free from the threat of terrorism, with which they have had to cope for too long.”

However the US state department last night reacted with some bluntness to May’s statement.

A spokesperson said: “We are surprised by the UK Prime Minister’s office statement given that Secretary Kerry’s remarks—which covered the full range of threats to a two state solution, including terrorism, violence, incitement and settlements—were in-line with the UK’s own longstanding policy and its vote at the United Nations last week.”

The statement also said: “We are grateful for the strongly supportive statements in response to Secretary Kerry’s speech from across the world, including Germany, France, Canada, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and others.”

Barack Obama, who will hand over to Donald Trump in January, has taken a series of steps in his final days in the White House to secure a foreign policy legacy, including backing the UN resolution which the White House hopes could give legal grounds for future action by other governments. Kerry made resolving the deadlocked Israeli-Palestine conflict a central aim of his tenure as secretary of state, but has made little progress.

Trump, who made stridently pro-Israel comments during the election campaign, responded angrily to the resolution, claiming: “The big loss for Israel in the United Nations will make it much harder to negotiate peace. Too bad, but we will get it done anyway!” Israel reacted furiously to Kerry’s comments, with Netanyahu calling them “skewed”.

May is known to be keen to kindle a close relationship with the Trump White House. The UK’s ambassador, Sir Kim Darroch, has even said he hopes it will emulate the rapport between Margaret Thatcher and her US counterpart Ronald Reagan.


Heather Stewart

The GuardianTramp

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