Interview With Udi Segal of Israeli Channel 2 and Maher Shalabi of Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation
Secretary of State
November 7, 2013
MR. SHALABI: Mr. Kerry, thank you for giving us, my colleague Udi from Israeli Channel 2 and myself from Palestinian TV, this opportunity to talk to you in your busy schedule. Although I want to ask you: Do you have any good news for the people in the region regarding the peace process?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the good news is that both leaders are committed to proceeding forward. Both leaders know there are difficulties, but we work through these difficulties. And I think each of them are deeply committed on behalf of their people. Prime Minister Netanyahu knows that Israel will be stronger, that Israel can protect its nature as a homeland for the Jewish people, and Israel has the ability to create security for the long term for the people of Israel. And President Abbas understands that he can create a state, a fully viable, contiguous state in which the Palestinian people have a homeland and in which you really have peace.
Peace brings with it extraordinary benefits for everybody. Imagine this region with the ability to attract tourists who can move freely, and you build hotels. You begin to have an increase in your universities and colleges, schools. Young people come. Both countries have extraordinary people who have an ability to be able to contribute to the strength of the region. And it is critical, I think – and the leaders understand this – the alternative is a perpetual kind of conflict which restrains everybody, creates increasing risks and dangers, and deprives people of the opportunities for the next generation to have the kind of future that people want.
MR. SEGAL: Mr. Secretary, let me ask you a basic question. Can you confirm that the two sides – Israeli Palestinian – agreed to free murders versus building in the settlement deal as part of the resumption of the negotiation, i.e., every time that Israel will release the prisoner, there will be a wave of construction?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, I cannot confirm that, because that is not true.
MR. SEGAL: All right.
SECRETARY KERRY: That is not the agreement. The agreement specifically was that there would be a release of the pre-Oslo prisoners, 104, who have been in prison now for many, many years, who would be released in exchange for the Palestinian Authority not proceeding to the UN during that period of time. Now, the Palestinian leadership made it absolutely clear they believe the settlements are illegal, they object to the settlements, and they are in no way condoning the settlements. But they knew that Israel would make some announcements. They knew it, but they don’t agree with it, and they don’t support it.
MR. SEGAL: So you definitely can (inaudible) —
SECRETARY KERRY: Let me just finish.
MR. SEGAL: — aware of that, but it was not agreed upon?
SECRETARY KERRY: That’s correct. That is correct. They disagree with it. In fact, they said: We don’t agree. We do not think you should be doing settlements. We, the United States, say the same thing. We do not believe the settlements are legitimate. We think they’re illegitimate. And we believe that the entire peace process would, in fact, be easier if these settlements were not taking place. Now, that’s our position. That is also the position – but we knew that there was not going to be a freeze. We didn’t negotiate a freeze. So there’s a difference here between knowing something may happen and objecting to it. The Palestinians profoundly object to it. The international community objects to it. The United States policy has always been that the settlements are illegitimate, and we believe this process would be much easier if we didn’t have the tension that is created by settlements.
Let me ask you something: How – if you say you’re working for peace and you want peace and a Palestine that is a whole Palestinian that belongs to the people who live there, how can you say we’re planning to build in the place that will eventually be Palestine? So it sends a message that somehow perhaps you’re not really serious. Now, we understand the pressures that exist, and we understand that within the government there are people who have a different view. So until you arrive at a peace agreement, that issue will not be settled. If you arrive at a peace agreement, everybody will understand where Israel is and everybody will understand where Palestine is.
MR. SHALABI: Mr. Secretary, the message that the Palestinians receiving from building settlement, that the two-state solution question – it’s a big question mark on two-state solution. Do you think that – and also, I have statistics that even raising number Palestinian start to say two-state solution is not (inaudible) anymore and they will go for a one-state solution.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there is no one-state solution. There’s no such thing as a one-state solution. You cannot have peace on any one side with the concept of a one-state solution. It just won’t happen. You can’t subsume other people into one state against their will. And it simply is not a reality. And anybody who’s talking about it doesn’t know really what – it’s just not possible. So you’ll have a perpetual state of conflict if somebody tries to achieve that.
But the point is planning – if you announce planning, I believe it is disruptive to the process. But – but the good side of it is during the time that we are negotiating the planning will not translate into building and construction. So we will not have to upset the solution of two states. And the Prime Minister has said he will not affect the peace map with the construction that takes place. So our hope is that the two-state remains viable. I believe it is viable today.
MR. SHALABI: Well, Mr. Kerry, all my colleague hears that, I’m from the West Bank, I’m from Ramallah. Coming to Jerusalem here, it’s a big hassle.
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s a big hassle.
MR. SHALABI: Going to (inaudible), going to Jenin, going to any other city, and it’s completely (inaudible) settlements that for the eyes of any Palestinian (inaudible) there is no valid state, Palestinian state, without removing all these settlements.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, this is obviously a topic that is right in the middle of the negotiations. This will be a subject of negotiation. And I believe it will be resolved in the negotiations. I am absolutely certain that there is a viable Palestinian state, and we will obviously have to deal with the issue of some of the settlements.
Now, as you know, the discussion is about whether or not there may be swaps, whether there will be land, and how much land. That’s part of what makes this a tough negotiation. But I can guarantee you I can see – I know – there is a viable Palestinian state that can be achieved, even as you protect a viable Israel that has the ability to defend itself and to be secure. I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t come back for each visit, if I didn’t believe this was possible. It is possible. It is achievable. And I think both leaders have an understanding of what they’re working towards in order to try to get there.
MR. SEGAL: Mr. Secretary, you spoke about what signaling does those things sent. So let me ask you that. How do you think a picture of Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, hugging murderers that killed children 20 or 30 years ago and say that they’re heroes of the Palestinian people – what kind of message do you think this is sent about peace process or peace atmosphere to the Israeli people?
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s very difficult. I have no illusions. I know that the vast majority of the people in Israel are opposed. I understand that. Prime Minister Netanyahu understands that, and it is a sign of his seriousness that he was willing to make this decision. The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos. I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?
MR. SEGAL: And do you think this will be the result of (inaudible)?
SECRETARY KERRY: I believe that if we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis, if we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of de-legitimization of Israel that’s been taking place in an international basis, that we if we don’t not resolve the question of settlements and the question of who lives where and how and what rights they have, if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that if we cannot get peace with a leadership that is committed to nonviolence, you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.
And in the world around Israel that is full of turmoil today – we’ve seen what’s happened all through the Maghreb, Egypt, Tunisia, in Libya. We know what going on in Yemen. We know the struggles of Syria, obviously, Lebanon, Hezbollah. The challenges of this region are enormous. If we can find a peace that brings Jordan, Palestine, Israel together in a peaceful block, if you will, that will have a profound impact on the day-to-day life of everybody in this region and on the economic possibilities for this region. I can envision – and an Arab minister said this to me the other day – if peace comes to Israel and to Palestine, this will be a financial powerhouse. This will be the economic center of the region. And Israel’s talent, Israel’s ability to be able to break through on science and technology and agriculture, all of the – desalinization of water – all of these things are things that Israel can sell and bring to other people in the region, and you could actually have a peace.
The Arab Peace Initiative, which has been restated by the entire Arab community, says that the day that Israel makes peace with Palestine, the day they sign that peace, all of the Arab communities – the 19, 20 that have not made peace with Israel – will make peace immediately. And all of the sudden, the opportunity for travel, for business, for exchange of students, for all kinds of things begins to become a reality. Will they happen, all of it, overnight? No, I’m not naive. It will take time. But the possibilities of that have to be posed against the prospect of just perpetual conflict, with a young people who will simply not sit still to be deprived of the opportunity to share in the benefits of the rest of the world.
So I think that peace really screams at us as something that is good for everybody, and it’s worth fighting for. I know the cynicism. I know so many people don’t believe anything I just said.
MR. SEGAL: That’s true.
SECRETARY KERRY: I know there are people —
MR. SEGAL: From both sides?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, from both sides. And I know there are people who have grown used to this. And particularly in Israel – Israel says oh, we feel safe today, we have a wall, we’re not in a day-to-day conflict, we’re doing pretty well economically. Well, I’ve got news for you. Today’s status quo will not be tomorrow’s or next year’s. Because if we don’t resolve this issue, the Arab world, the Palestinians, neighbors, others are going to begin again to push in a different way. And the last thing Israel wants to see is a return to violence.
And one more thing: How does Israel survive as a Jewish state in a binational status? People have to stop and think about this reality. You need to resolve this issue, and it needs to be resolved now.
MR. SHALABI: Mr. Kerry, I don’t want to make strong statement like my colleague did here, but the occupation is the reason for any action by Palestinian and in the Palestinian territory. The main issue is occupation. The issue is that I want to ask the U.S. officials always say when it comes to Palestinian-Israeli conflict, well both side have to come to an agreement. You know maybe more than anyone if it continue the same they will never reach an agreement without United States as (inaudible) player.
SECRETARY KERRY: I understand.
MR. SHALABI: Even imposing that agreement on both sides.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah.
MR. SHALABI: So —
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you can’t impose. I mean, first of all, the United States —
MR. SHALABI: Well, America impose in other countries.
SECRETARY KERRY: No, America can suggest. America can help. But the parties – Israelis and Palestinians – have to negotiate this. We are a facilitator and we can help – excuse me – we can help provide ideas. We can work with the parties. And as we hear the different issues and as we hear their complaints and their ideas, perhaps we can help to bridge the gap and the difference between them. But in the end, you can’t have a peace imposed by anybody. You have to have a peace that the parties agree on.
I understand completely Israel’s need for security. Israel has Lebanon, Israel has Gaza, Israel has thousands of rockets aimed at it. For years, some countries have been willing to declare war against Israel. Israel has to fight to defend itself. So Israel, I understand, has to have security that is guaranteed, has to have a certainty about the security. And the Palestinians need to recognize you cannot have a West Bank turned into a Gaza or a Lebanon. You just can’t let that happen. So —
MR. SHALABI: Maybe you know, Mr. Secretary, that in 2012 not one —
SECRETARY KERRY: I do know that. Not one Israeli in 2012 was killed in the West Bank. And that’s a huge step forward. And the reason I’m so urgent about this is because the Palestinians and President Abbas have committed themselves to nonviolence. So it is important for Israel to strengthen them, to help provide this peace so that the nonviolence is rewarded. Because if nonviolence is not rewarded, the alternative will be that people go back to the other.
But let me just finish. You need to provide the security for Israel and you need to provide certainties about certain things, what happens with refugees, how you deal with the land. The Palestinians need to know that they will have a real state, not a Swiss cheese, but a state that is contiguous, that allows them the opportunity to be able to have their sovereignty respected.
And it’s balancing those things that is the tricky, challenging part of this negotiation. But I think both parties know exactly what each other needs. And the trick is to get people in a place where they’re prepared to say yes to something because the other people are prepared to say yes too. And that’s how you get to a solution.
MR. SEGAL: I want to ask you about Iran. Following up my colleague, you’re going to put in American plan, negotiation will be stalled?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the P5+1 —
MR. SEGAL: (Inaudible) million dollar Palestinian issue. Are you going to put in American plan?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, we have no plans right now to put in an American plan. Right now, they’re negotiating. We’re part of the negotiations with the parties. They’re putting ideas on the table. Some days it moves faster, some days it moves slower, some days you get a little further on some subjects, some days you have an explosion over one issue or another. We know it’s hard. But what’s important is both leaders are committed to work at trying to find a way forward.
And the people of both places, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, need to start to think about peace. We have to stop the incitement, stop the language that attacks one or the other, stop the old rhetoric about driving people into the sea or pushing people out of their cities. We have to begin to think about how do we live together. Because as I said before, there is no one-state solution. Anybody who goes down that road is going down the road to a much more intensified conflict and it will not be resolved peacefully.
MR. SEGAL: Regarding the negotiation on the Iranian issues, you said words are not enough. Can you tell us what concrete step the Iranian did actually took that made you rush to the Senate and tell them: stop the new wave of sanction?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, first of all, we have not rushed. Number two, we have not taken away any sanctions yet, nor are we talking about undoing the sanctions regime. Iran needs to prove that its program is peaceful. And I have said many times we will not make a deal that’s a bad deal, that leaves any of our friends or ourselves exposed to a nuclear weapons program. President Obama has made it clear: Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. And we are serious about that, and we will not undo the major sanctions regime until we have absolute clarity about what is happening.
QUESTION: But you offering them now timeout?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, we’re asking them to step up and provide a complete freeze over where they are today. Let me just ask you simply: Are we better off not talking to them and they continue to build the capacity, and then we have an automatic military confrontation? Or are we better off having a freeze where they are today and take the program backwards so that you expand the amount of time before they could break out? How – which way is safer? It’s very clear to me how you’re safer.
And it seems to me that we have an obligation to the world before you use military force you need to exhaust every possibility of diplomacy. That is an obligation. I have fought in a war. I know what happens when you go to war. War is the failure of diplomacy, and we need to try to do everything we can to exhaust diplomacy. The President has taken no option off the table. We are prepared to do what is necessary. Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.
MR. SEGAL: Next question.
MR. SHALABI: I want to ask you about Kerry plan. I do not (inaudible) Israeli side —
SECRETARY KERRY: About what?
MR. SHALABI: Kerry plan.
SECRETARY KERRY: Kerry plan?
MR. SHALABI: Yeah, your plan.
SECRETARY KERRY: There’s a Kerry plan?
MR. SHALABI: About the economy. It’s like almost 56 percent of the Palestine say – 9 percent say it’s a grade B, 47 say it’s a fair amount, 44 percent never heard about it.
SECRETARY KERRY: Sure. I know that. That’s why I’m doing this interview.
MR. SHALABI: What will you say to the Palestinian and to the Israeli also about —
SECRETARY KERRY: The economic plan – look, if you want to make peace with people, if you want people to believe in the possibilities of peace and the benefits of peace, you need to show them the benefits. If the life of Palestinians continues to not have opportunity, not see economic opportunity, not find jobs, not improve their lives, it’s hard for them to believe in the government, it’s hard for them to believe anything anybody says. But if their lives are beginning to improve, then they have a stake in the future, and they begin to believe in the possibilities of peace. And you have a better chance of making peace if life is improving and things are happening on the ground.
So we are – yesterday, I announced $75 million in Bethlehem that will be used for road improvements in order to provide, number one, jobs to build the roads and work on them, but number two, better access to sites, connect the Manger Square to the city of Bethlehem, begin to attract tourists. And there are benefits of this. We’re going to help the schools. We want to help with health clinics. We are building a private sector initiative, which will put new projects in place. The Wataniya communications project will be going into Gaza.
We’re trying to help prove that there can be improved living conditions. More water is coming into the West Bank on a daily basis. We’re improving the Allenby Bridge movement. We’re improving the number of work permits so that more Palestinians will be able to come into Israel and be able to work. I mean, these are the ways in which you break down the barriers and you begin to show people what peace could possibly look like.
MR. SEGAL: So in the next spring, according to your schedule, Syria will be stripped of its chemical weapon, Iran will have an agreement to stop its nuclear program, and we will have a final status agreement between Israelis and Palestinian. Could it be that you guys maybe are slightly too optimistic?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think you need optimism in a place that has a lot of pessimism. I think it’s good to have optimism. The schedule may slip a little here and there, but if you don’t have targets, if you don’t set ambitious targets, you don’t get anything done.
We are on target right now with the chemical weapons in Syria. A month ago, nobody would have believed you even had Assad admitting he had weapons. Now, not only has he admitted, but we’re moving them out and destroying their capacity. So if it takes a few months longer, I can live with that.
With respect to the peace process, we have not set a specific – we’ve set nine months for the time of negotiation. We are working on trying to bring people to a place where there’s an understandable framework for those negotiations. So everybody knows what we’re aiming for. And there’s a general agreement, maybe not an agreement with every piece of it, but a general agreement of the direction we’re moving.
And obviously with Iran, we have a target, but the clock is ticking. Iran knows that if they don’t meet the standards of the international community the sanctions could be increased and, even worse, if the clock ticked down where you have a very dangerous situation, there may be no option but the military option. We hope to avoid that, but we are clearly moving to try to deal with these issues.
MR. SEGAL: Mr. John Kerry, Secretary of State, thank you very much for the interview, for Maher, my colleague and me.
SECRETARY KERRY: Happy to be with you. Thank you. I’ll be doing it again sometime.
MR. SHALABI: Thank you.
# # #