At this late date, weeks ahead of the inauguration of Mr. Trump, who openly lobbied on Israel’s side against the United Nations resolution, it is unclear what Mr. Kerry hopes to achieve from the speech, other than to leave a set of principles that he believes will one day emerge as the basis for talks, if and when they resume.
Mr. Kerry, the official said, has long wanted to give a speech outlining an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal but was held back by White House officials, who saw it as unnecessary pressure on Israel that would anger Mr. Netanyahu. But that objection was lifted last week as Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry agreed the time had come to abstain on the United Nations resolution. That decision led to one of the biggest breaches yet in the rocky American-Israeli relationship during the Obama years.
Mr. Kerry had planned to give the speech last Thursday, ahead of the Security Council vote, but he scrapped that plan the next morning when Egypt, under pressure from Mr. Netanyahu, postponed voting on the resolution. The resolution was taken up by four other nations, led by New Zealand, whose officials say the decision was not based on pressure from the Obama administration or any other nation.
But that left the United States and its United Nations ambassador, Samantha Power, to let the resolution pass without offering an alternative plan for a peace deal, even if it was one they knew the incoming Trump administration was likely to largely dismiss. Mr. Trump has said he will nominate an American ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, who has rejected the idea of a two-state solution — a key to the plan Mr. Kerry will define on Wednesday and a concept that President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton also embraced — and who has helped finance the new settlements that the United Nations condemned. Mr. Clinton gave a similar speech at the end of his presidency, just after the collapse of negotiations at Camp David.
But Mr. Kerry’s effort has been dead for more than two years. The decision to go ahead with his speech in the waning days of the administration is characteristic of Mr. Kerry, a serial negotiator who over the past four years traveled the world on three major missions: an Israeli-Palestinian accord, the Iranian nuclear accord, and a cease-fire and political accord for Syria. He will leave office on Jan. 20 having achieved the nuclear deal, but having tried and failed on the other two.
Still, Mr. Kerry’s speech is important because the administration’s decision to let the resolution pass has created more political repercussions — including from Democrats — than the White House anticipated. The incoming Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, condemned the decision. George Mitchell, a former Maine senator and Middle East negotiator, said on Tuesday on MSNBC that Mr. Obama should have vetoed the resolution because “this moves Israel further away” from an eventual accord. He said he feared it would have the same effect on the Palestinians.
Former members of the Obama administration say that Mr. Netanyahu has long opposed having Mr. Kerry lay out the terms of an eventual settlement, for fear it could become the basis of another Security Council resolution, giving him even less negotiating room. But it is unclear that any such resolution could be organized in the next three weeks. The senior State Department official said the United States anticipated no further United Nations action based on Mr. Kerry’s outline.
If any resolution vote came after noon on Jan. 20, Mr. Trump would almost certainly veto it. He denounced the United Nations on Twitter on Monday, calling it “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”
Mr. Kerry’s desire, his aides said, is to focus the discussion on several of the long-running disputes that have upended decades of negotiation attempts: where to draw borders, how to establish security, the status of Jerusalem, how to handle mutual recognition of Israeli and Palestinian states. Each is filled with land mines, and Mr. Kerry’s speech will no doubt contain many of the code words that mean so much to both sides, and that have hardened so many positions over the years.
But he is giving the speech at a time when Mr. Netanyahu has focused on the politics of the moment. The Israeli prime minister took the remarkable step of engaging Mr. Trump as an envoy to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, to persuade him to postpone the resolution. After a call with the man with whom he will soon be negotiating American aid, Mr. Sisi relented.
In the end, Venezuela, Senegal, New Zealand and Malaysia took up the resolution that Egypt had postponed. The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said Thursday he had no idea how the Americans would vote
On Friday, Council diplomats skipped lunch. They discussed South Sudan. They discussed Syria. Then, after closed-door consultations, they voted on the resolution to condemn Israeli settlement-building.
“We did not discuss the substance of the resolution at any time with the United States,” Gerard van Bohemen, New Zealand’s ambassador to the United Nations, said later, disputing Mr. Netanyahu’s account that the vote was orchestrated in Washington. “We did not know how the United States would vote.”
The surprise was palpable. Román Oyarzun Marchesi of Spain, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council, asked for a show of hands in support of the resolution: 14 hands went up. He asked for a show of hands against: zero hands went up. A gasp was heard in the Council chamber. It meant that the United States, which can unilaterally veto a resolution as a permanent member of the Security Council, had not done so. When Mr. Oyarzun asked for a show of hands in abstention, only Ms. Power put up hers.
The Council chamber broke out in applause.