Remarks at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Secretary of State
October 28, 2015
SECRETARY KERRY:…But 20 years ago next week, after attending a peace rally, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by an extremist who claimed to be doing God’s will.
At the funeral, King Hussein of Jordan, Rabin’s one-time enemy turned partner in peace, declared, I quote: “Let us not keep silent. Let our voices rise high enough to speak of our commitment to peace for all times. And let us tell those who live in darkness, who are the enemies of life and true faith, this is where we stand. This is our camp.”
At the same ceremony, Rabin’s granddaughter Noa, a teenager, said that, quote, “Others greater than I have already eulogized you. But they never had the pleasure to feel the caresses of your warm, soft hands, to merit your warm embrace, to see your half smile that always told me so much, that same smile which is no longer frozen in the grave with you.”
Now, these quotations remind us that beyond all the cold statistics, beyond the headlines of the daily newspapers, beyond the clapping talking heads on one show or another and eternally perpetual talk show circuits, the impact of violence in the Middle East, there is humanity. There is a humanity of people just like us who yearn simply to help one another and to share affection from one generation to the next. And beyond all the complexities in the region, there is also something fairly basic going on – a struggle between people who are intent on opening wounds, or leaving them open, and those who want to close them and who want to heal and build a future.
It is this struggle between destroyers and builders that informs every aspect of American policy in the Middle East. Now, this is the glue that holds the components of our strategy together – and we do have a strategy – whether we’re backing an electoral process in Tunisia, mobilizing a coalition against terrorists, trying to halt the sudden outbreak of violence as I was last weekend with respect to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, or striving to put in place new foundations for prosperity and stability. Our goal is to help ensure that builders and healers throughout the region have the chance that they need to accomplish their tasks.
Now, I’ve heard some Americans wonder aloud, “Why should we care about the Middle East? After all, we’re on the verge of energy independence, so why don’t we just walk away?”
And the answer is that it would be directly and profoundly contrary to our nation’s interests to try and do that. We have to remember that the Middle East is home to some of America’s oldest friends, including our ally Israel, but also our many Arab partners in this now more complicated world. We also learned from 9/11 that regional threats become global very quickly. And we have seen that ideas transmitted by terrorists in Raqqa and Mosul can reach impressionable minds in Minneapolis and Mississippi. We are aware as well that events in the Middle East can affect perceptions on every single continent because people on every continent are influenced by the spiritual and ethical traditions that have their roots in those ancient lands.
I hear about this everywhere I go. People are amazed. It’s good to see the former prime minister here. I am amazed – he knows what I’m talking about. All over the world – foreign ministers, prime ministers, finance ministers, presidents say to me when I visit, no matter where I am, “You’ve got to do something about the Middle East. You have to change this because it affects us.”
Now, it is true, of course, that we rely less on Middle East oil than we used to, but it’s also true that the energy market is global. And any serious disruption of Gulf oil supplies could quickly harm our financial systems, lower exports, cost millions of jobs. That’s an interest.
So the Middle East matters, and it matters way beyond oil, my friends. It matters a lot in the context of this world where we are trying to bring people together to seize a future. That’s why it is so appropriate that Carnegie is launching this ambitious project this week called Arab World Horizons to examine trends that will shape the Middle East for decades to come. And I encourage you to begin this project with a healthy degree of optimism. And before you conclude that I’ve had too much caffeine – (laughter) – let me emphasize I mean what I just said, I mean it.
A couple of years ago, we asked the McKinsey Company to study the economic prospects of Jordan, Syria, Israel, Egypt, and the West Bank. And a good starting place for all of you is to go back to the Arab report – study report on economic growth of a number of years which was stark in its appraisal of what had not happened that should have happened in many of the Arab countries in the region. But interestingly, my good friend, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Zayed, recently also commissioned a separate study which similarly showed what we looked at through McKinsey Company where we looked at every sector from farming to tourism.
My friends, the potential for growth is simply extraordinary. The potential of this region to be a driving financial center, harnessing the incredible technology and capacity of peoples in many of the countries is simply extraordinary. Just imagine a future where people from the Nile to the Jordan to the Euphrates are free to live and work and travel as they choose; where every boy and girl has access to a quality education; where visitors are able to flock without fear to the world’s greatest tourist attractions. I mean, think of that – the world’s greatest tourist attractions. I’ve driven by them. I haven’t even had time to stop at some of them. The place where John the Baptist christened so many people including Jesus, the temple near it, a Muslim mosque, which is one of the oldest in the region and most important, the extraordinary history of the generations of struggle that have taken place in the Middle East. There is something there for everybody – even a atheist who is a budding architect would have trouble not having an interesting time. And where you have – neighboring countries are actually eager to trade. I hear this from the ministers in each of the surrounding countries – how much they wish things could just change so they could begin to engage in the normal commerce of the region and ready to cooperate on projects that actually link their economies together.
Now, sadly, we have become so accustomed to dwelling on the problems of the Middle East that we sometimes forget that, staring us in the face, are some incredible opportunities – and we all ought to be doing more to focus on those opportunities, because the people in all the countries are beginning to simply lose belief in any of their leaders. Palestinians don’t have belief, Israelis don’t have belief, and people in the surrounding Arab countries don’t have belief. And what it takes is real leadership and real decisions and real events on the ground to begin to change those hopes.
So we ought to be doing more, all of us – and here I specifically include governments in the region – need to take advantage of these huge opportunities that exist today.
Now, let’s be honest with each other. Apart from petroleum, Middle Eastern countries right now simply don’t produce enough of what the rest of the world wants; they don’t trade efficiently even among themselves; and they aren’t making wise use of their human capital. Only about one woman in four participates in the economy and youth unemployment is at 25 percent or higher. This leaves millions of unhappy young people who – because of the pervasiveness of social media – are completely aware of what everybody else in the world has and they don’t. Everybody’s connected 24/7. You can be impoverished and they still have a smartphone and they can still Google and they can still Facebook and they can still figure out what the other person has, and they can talk to those people and they do in very simple, declarative sentences.
So what happens to all that energy and ambition?
In the United States, the average age is 35. In the Middle East and North Africa, it’s under 25. And many of those countries have populations where it’s 60, 65 percent under the age of 30, 35. So the region’s future really depends on the choices that these young men and women are going to get to make. But who are they going to listen to? You need to talk about that as you have this conference. What ideas will command their loyalty? What might excite their imagination? Individually, each one of these young people is a story that will end either in frustration or in opportunity. And collectively, they present a profound challenge, because the outcome of that race between frustration and opportunity will do everything to define tomorrow’s Middle East.
So to be clear, there’s no single way, there’s no just one way to win this race.
Governments in the region have to look both inward at their own policies and they have to look outward in order to compete in the global economy. And boy, do they have to start making a lot tougher decisions than they seem to have been willing to make. You can’t fake it. You just can’t drift along and pretend somehow it’s going to resolve itself.
Business people have to help bridge the gap between what graduates actually know when they leave school and the skills that they need to have in order to get a good job. And by the way, that’s the same right here in the United States of America and every other modern country today.
Women and girls have to be given an equal chance to compete in the classroom and in the workplace.
And civil society has to have the right to voice new ideas, advocate for reform, and hold leaders accountable.
Now, the United States believes deeply in the future of the region. That’s why we remain so engaged. And that is why we have invested in a variety of worthwhile programs, everything from the rule of law initiatives in Jordan to public-private partnerships in the Palestinian Authority, which Salam Fayyad worked so hard, and I had the pleasure of working with him, to try to implement. But we also know that the pace of progress will depend, in part, on improved security – and that is a major goal of U.S. policy in the Middle East. And we don’t just mean security for one country or another. Israelis have to be secure; Palestinians have to be secure; the people in Gaza have to be secure; everybody has to be secure. And it’s our common enterprise now to fight for that security.
So here I go back to the struggle that I mentioned earlier about the destroyers and the builders. If the builders are going to succeed, they’re going to have to be protected from the dangers that are posed by terrorists, by strife, by violence, by weapons of mass destruction; and America’s security strategy in the Middle East is precisely designed to try to aid in each of these areas.
In fact, we have established an unprecedented level of cooperation with Israel on military and intelligence issues; and we are coordinating in enforcing sanctions and in trying to stop terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah from getting the financing and the weapons that they seek.
We also support Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens, and we do that in many ways. We also support all of the GCC countries in the work we did at Camp David and in Doha and that we will continue to do, and that I even reaffirmed when I was out in the region just a couple of days ago. Within the past week, I have met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with President Abbas, with King Abdullah, with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, others. And we all agreed on the importance of ending the violence in Israel, Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank, and of and making it clear that the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif will not be changed.
Now, I want to be clear that the kind of violence that we have been seeing in recent weeks hurts everyone: the innocent victims and their families; the Jewish and Arab residents of Israel; the Palestinians who yearn to have their aspirations realized – hurts everyone. And this is yet another indication of the folly of believing that efforts at permanent peace and reconciliation are somehow not worth pursuing. I can’t imagine the notion of just throwing up your hands and walking away and saying good luck. The current situation is simply not sustainable. President Obama has said that publicly many times. I’ve said it publicly.
And it is absolutely vital for Israel to take steps that empower Palestinian leaders to improve economic opportunities and the quality of life for their people on a day-to-day basis. And it is equally important – equally important – for Palestinian leaders to cease the incitement of violence and to offer something more than rhetoric; instead, propose solutions that will contribute in a real way to the improvement of life, to the reduction of violence, and to the safety and security of Israel’s – of Israelis. Firm and creative leadership on both sides is absolutely essential. A two-state solution with strong security protections remains the only viable alternative. And for anybody who thinks otherwise, you can measure what unitary looks like by just looking at what’s been going on in the last weeks. The United States absolutely remains prepared to do what we can to make that two-state – two peoples living side by side in peace and security – to make it possible.
Country: United States of America
Subject: Holy places, Incidents, Jerusalem, Living conditions, Middle East situation, Negotiations and agreements, Palestine question, Peace process, Peace proposals and efforts, Peace-building, Security issues, Situation in the OPT including Jerusalem, Statehood-related, Terrorism
Publication Date: 28/10/2015