Remarks at the Brookings Institution's 2014 Saban Forum 

Remarks

John Kerry
Secretary of State

Willard Hotel

Washington, D.C.,

December 7, 2014

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But it is also the reason that we are so deeply troubled by the recent events in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.

No country, obviously, should have to endure the barrage of rocket fire, the horrendous threat of a terrorist jumping out of a tunnel armed with tranquilizer drugs and handcuffs, to snatch some person out of a kibbutz and drag them back into Gaza and hold them hostage. No one should be subject to that fear and to that consideration on a daily basis. And no one should have to endure, as the Israeli people did during this summer’s conflict in Gaza, the barrage of rockets that came as far as the airport in Tel Aviv and which hit with greater accuracy.

But also, no community should have to endure the loss of thousands of its citizens, including hundreds of children, women, as the Palestinians experienced during that that period too because of the choices that Hamas made.

The ongoing unrest has brought new traumas to everybody. And just this past week, two Israelis were stabbed as they shopped for groceries in the West Bank. And we were all devastated and shocked and angered by the brutality of the attack in the synagogue last month in which three rabbis – each one an American citizen – were hacked to death even as they prayed.

Meanwhile, Palestinians have endured a spate of unconscionable “price tag attacks,” the burning of a mosque near Ramallah.

These atrocities have no place in the modern world, and we – all of us – have to condemn them in the strongest possible terms.

But I will tell you, having worked at this issue, as Martin said, for so many years, as have so many of you, common sense and strategic analysis tells us definitively: This cannot go on. Too many Israelis have died. Too many Palestinians have died. And we have to do everything possible to prevent the loss of more innocent lives and smother the sparks of an immediate tension which is growing so that that tension does not explode into a full-fledged fire.

And I will tell you, all the years of travel on the Foreign Relations Committee and now as Secretary of State, I have never seen so much frustration building up with all of the stakeholders as it is today. Last month, I made an urgent trip to Amman in order to meet with President Abbas and then with Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Abdullah, and to reaffirm the status quo on the Temple Mount. Since then, because the leaders made the right decisions, tens of thousands of Arabs have prayed, things have been calm, all sides have proven they can work together and actually achieve progress. And I have continued to work both publicly and privately with the Israelis, with the Palestinians and the Jordanians to push for concrete steps to deescalate the tensions and try to end the violence.

But even as we work to calm the situation, it is really imperative that we keep our long-term goals for regional stability in mind. President Obama and I have said many times and I say it again today and I believe it from here to the tip of my toes: The status quo between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not sustainable, and the alternatives to peace are neither acceptable nor viable. We cannot ignore larger issues that have to be resolved.

Now, that’s why we spent nine months engaged in serious negotiations, because it is the only way that an enduring peace can be achieved. And I can assure you that over those nine months, gaps were narrowed, progress was made, definitions were given to very difficult issues. And I came to understand, as did everybody else involved, much more the tiny needle that has to be threaded in order to try to find a way to accommodate those interests. But I still believe that could be done. Those of us who were part of this process, Martin included, still believe there are possibilities to be pursued. And we know that Israel will only and should only enter into an agreement if its full security needs are fully met. I understand that. No Israeli can be asked to turn the West Bank into Gaza. But we believe there are many ways – and General Allen and others have worked on them – that that can absolutely be avoided.

And now with Egypt and Jordan and others in the region, there are many ways in which others can join in helping to guarantee that. In fact, that’s why, with the extraordinary work of General Allen, we made an unprecedented effort to address Israel’s security in the context of the two-state outcome. And that’s why we continue to explore how the new regional dynamic regarding Daesh and the Arab world will enhance the security of Israel and its neighbors. Yes, we know that Israel has to be strong to make peace, but we also know that real peace will make Israel stronger.

Now, I fully recognize that, to most people living in Israel, Gaza, or the West Bank, today as I speak, the idea of peace sounds dubious at best and impossible to many. I understand that. But I cannot tell you notwithstanding how strongly the United States flat-out rejects the notion that peace is a pipedream. In fact, the need for a two-state solution is even stronger today than it was a year ago.

And I know there are Israelis who question whether Palestinian leaders will make the difficult decisions that peace requires. Palestinians have the same questions about Israeli leaders. And the world’s questions about both parties’ willingness to move forward have led to mounting pressure for the international community to act, because everyone feels impacted by the gridlock.

Now, given recent headlines and debates, it’s important to reiterate that this conflict cannot be resolved through unilateral actions or by efforts to delegitimize Israel; it must ultimately be resolved between the parties themselves.

And there should be no question that a two-state solution – yes, a two-state solution – is the only path to peace, for the simple reason that there is no one-state alternative that is viable or that would preserve Israel’s status as a Jewish state and democracy.

America will continue to stand with those who believe in a peaceful future for their children. Now, obviously, we don’t expect the negotiations to resume tomorrow. There is an election in the next few months now in Israel, and the Israeli people will have important choices to make for their future. And we look forward to working closely with the new government, whatever its composition, whenever it is formed. And we will absolutely not involve ourselves in any way in the middle of the choice of the people of Israel. Achieving a negotiated two-state solution will, however, remain high on the agenda of this Administration of the United States.

For now, it is important that we keep the hopes of a lasting peace alive, that we support that those who believe it is still possible, and that we continue to work to build the Palestinian economy and create the conditions for successful negotiations. And once the parties themselves make the tough decisions required to get back to the talks, we stand ready to be engaged.

In the end, we should all want the same things: security and a normal life for Israelis, an independent state where they can live in freedom and dignity for the Palestinians, and peace and prosperity for both peoples and for the entire region.

One of the things that excites me the most about those possibilities is the degree to which, when I meet with President al-Sisi or Mohamed bin Zayed of the Emirates, or King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, they all talk about what the region could be like with peace. They view the economic prowess of Israel as an asset to all of them. And things that could happen in terms of agriculture and energy, a range of possibilities – and we need – my friends, we really need to break down some barriers and explore those possibilities. In Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, in Syria and Iraq, from the shores of the Mediterranean to the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, the future depends on whether we can stand united against those who would divide us by tribe, by sect, by race or religion.

It depends on whether world leaders can find the way to address their differences directly, honestly, and peacefully, instead of through militant proxies.

And it depends on whether we can provide young people with an option beyond either living in an authoritarian dictatorship or joining the extremist underground.

I believe we can, and I think you do, too.

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