Remarks at the World Economic Forum


John Kerry
Secretary of State

Davos, Switzerland

January 24, 2014


And that brings me to the most intractable of all conflicts: the struggle to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Every time I meet my foreign counterparts, anywhere in the world – when they visit me in Washington or when I travel to their countries – I am not kidding you when I tell you that invariably the first issue that they ask me about is the challenge of Middle East peace. It may seem improbable to you, but I’m telling you it’s absolutely true. From Asia to Latin America to Africa, all through Europe, this question lingers. This intractable conflict has confounded administration after administration, prime minister after prime minister, leaders, and peacemakers. And they always ask this about the Middle East even before they complain about what we’re doing or not doing, ironically.

Despite this global interest, my friends, people still ask me – I’m astonished by it – why, with all the troubles in the world, and in the Middle East in particular, why is the Obama Administration so focused on trying to forge Israeli-Palestinian peace? And obviously, I’ve had that question directed at me in personal and in other ways. Well, the reason that we are so devoted to trying to find a solution is really very simple: Because the benefits of success and the dangers of failure are enormous for the United States, for the world, for the region, and most importantly, for the Israeli and Palestinian people. After all the years expended on this, the last thing we need is a failure that will make certain additional conflict.

There are some people who assert this may be the last shot. I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t want to find out the hard way. But I want you to consider what happens if talks fail. For Israel, the demographic dynamic will make it impossible to preserve its future as a democratic, Jewish state. Israel’s current relative security and prosperity doesn’t change the fact that the status quo cannot be sustained if Israel’s democratic future is in fact to be secured. Today’s status quo, my friends, I promise you will not last forever.

President Abbas is committed to negotiation and to nonviolence. But failure will only embolden extremists and empower hardliners at the expense of the moderates who have been committed to a nonviolent track to try to find peace. And what would happen in the West Bank without that commitment to nonviolence?

The Israeli and Palestinian members of Breaking the Impasse initiative who are here today know well what is at stake. Israel’s economic juggernaut is a wonder to behold. Prime Minister Netanyahu was able to talk to you about it here today. But a deteriorating security environment and the growing isolation that could come with it could put that prosperity at risk.

Meanwhile, if this fails, Palestinians will be no closer to the sovereignty that they seek, no closer to their ability to be the masters of their own fate, no closer to their ability to grow their own economy, no closer to resolving the refugee problem that has been allowed to fester for decades. And if they fail to achieve statehood now, there is no guarantee another opportunity will follow anytime soon.

This issue cannot be resolved at the United Nations. It can only be resolved between the parties. If peace fails, the region risks another destabilizing crisis. One unilateral act from one side or the other will beget another, and yet another, and another, until we have fallen yet again into a dangerous downward spiral at a time where there’s already too much danger in the region.

And you know what’s interesting? We often spend so much time talking about what both parties stand to lose without peace that we actually sometimes forget to talk enough about what they stand to gain from peace. I believe that the fact that peace is possible, especially in a region with so much tension and turmoil, ought to motivate people.

Palestinians stand to gain, above all else, an independent, viable, contiguous state, their own place among the community of nations. Imagine this time next year here in Davos if Palestinian businessmen and government leaders from the state of Palestine are able to pitch the world’s largest investors a host of projects from the Palestinian Economic Initiative. And imagine if they could be invited to participate in building a new state with new jobs, new infrastructure, and a new life free from occupation.

And for Israel, the benefits of peace are enormous as well, perhaps even more significant. For starters, no nation on earth stands to gain so many new economic partners so quickly as Israel does, because 20 additional members – nations of the Arab League and 35 Muslim countries stand ready under the Arab Peace Initiative to all recognize Israel and normalize relations the moment a peace agreement is reached.

As Sheikh Abduallah bin Zaid said at a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Arab League, which we held in Paris a few months ago, he said to his minister colleagues – completely spontaneously, unexpected from me, he said, “You know what? After peace, Israel will enjoy greater economic benefit from relations with the Gulf than it now enjoys with Europe.” That’s the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates.

Just imagine what that would mean for commerce and trade. Stanley Fischer, the former governor of the Bank of Israel who President Obama has nominated to serve on our own Federal Reserve Board, said that a peace agreement with the Palestinians could boost Israel’s GDP by as much as 6 percent a year.

And together, the Jewish state of Israel and the Arab state of Palestine can develop into an international hub for technology, for trade, tourism – tourism, unbelievable tourism, the holy sites of the world, of the major three religions. This would invigorate a region. It is long past time that the people of this great and ancient part of the world became known for what they can create, not for the conflicts that they can perpetrate. It is long past time that Jerusalem – the crucible of the world’s three great monotheistic religions – becomes known not as the object of constant struggle, but as the golden city of peace and unity, embodying the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

The truth is that after decades of struggling with this conflict, we all know what the endgame looks like: an independent state for Palestinians wherever they may be; security arrangements for Israel that leave it more secure, not less; a full, phased, final withdrawal of the Israeli army; a just and agreed solution to the Palestinian refugee problem; an end to the conflict and all claims; and mutual recognition of the nation-state of the Palestinian people and the nation-state of the Jewish people.

That is our destination. And the real challenge is not what is it; it’s just how to get there – how to get the leaders and the body politic of both places to make the courageous decisions necessary to embrace what would be fair and what would work. That’s why I am working with President Abbas and with Prime Minister Netanyahu to achieve a framework for the negotiations that will define the endgame and all the core issues, and provide guidelines for the negotiators in their efforts to achieve a final-status peace agreement.

I have watched over 30 years in the United States Senate. I was on the lawn in Washington when the great handshake took place. I’ve watched Annapolis and Wye and Madrid and Oslo and all of these efforts, but always we’ve left out the endgame. Always, people have had to wonder when or if the real peace could be achieved.

One of the biggest challenges in reaching this agreement, I will tell you, my friends, is security. The Palestinians need to know that at the end of the day, their territory is going to be free of Israeli troops, that occupation ends; but the Israelis rightfully will not withdraw unless they know that the West Bank will not become a new Gaza. And nobody can blame any leader of Israel for being concerned about that reality. We have been working hard on addressing this challenge. President Obama’s approach begins with America’s steadfast commitment to Israel’s security. He knows and I know that there cannot be peace unless Israel’s security and its needs are met.

We have put the full range of resources of the U.S. Government behind this effort in an unprecedented way. For the past nine months, a team led by General John Allen – a four-star general and one of the most respected minds in the U.S. military – has been engaged in a comprehensive security dialogue with our Israeli and Palestinian counterparts.

Based on his efforts, we are confident that, together with Israel, working with Jordan, working with the Palestinians, working with us, all of us together can create a security structure that meets the highest standards anywhere in the world. And by developing a layered defense that includes significantly strengthening the fences on both sides of the border, by deploying state-of-the-art technology, with a comprehensive program of rigorous testing, we can make the border safe for any type of conventional or unconventional threat, from individual terrorists or a conventional armed force. We are well aware that technology alone is not the answer, but we also know that it can play a key role in helping to secure the Jordanian border, just like Iron Dome has played a key role in securing Israel’s southern communities.

Security is a priority because we understand that Israel has to be strong to make peace, but we also believe that peace will make Israel stronger. We are convinced that the greatest security of all will actually come from a two-state solution that brings Israel the lasting peace and secure borders that they deserve, and brings Palestinians the freedom and the dignity that they deserve.

As committed as we are, it is ultimately up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach an agreement on how to end this conflict. Make no mistake: this will require difficult political decisions and painful compromises on both sides. These are emotional issues, many embedded in age-old narratives. At the end of the day, it is up to Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to recognize what the world has recognized: that peace is in the best interests of their people. But that makes it no less true that at every level, everybody has a role to play. The Arab League and the European Union have already shown how they can pave the way for peace, and they have been unbelievably cooperative, and we’re grateful for their help. I thank King Abdullah of Jordan and Nasser Judeh and the extraordinary efforts of Jordan to help move this; the Arab League Nabil Elaraby, and Khalid Atiyah, the leader of the Arab League Follow-On Committee that is working month to month to stay current and to be engaged in this.

Many states have made contributions to the Palestinian economy, including a micro-infrastructure initiative that is making a difference to people’s everyday lives. Many companies, including some of you here, have invested in both Israel and the Palestinian territories, and you’ve shown the difference that the private sector can make in this endeavor. And all of you can make a positive contribution by dismissing, please, the all-too-easy skepticism by seeing the possibilities and by building the momentum for peace.

Successful diplomacy, like the conversations here at Davos, demands the kind of cooperation that has to come from many stakeholders. As Klaus Schwab says, in an interconnected world, all challenges must be addressed on the basis of togetherness. That is true, whether you’re talking about this peace effort or about what we must achieve in Syria, or about what we must ensure in Iran. Intensive, creative, strong diplomacy requires cooperation, and that is exactly why the United States is so engaged in the Middle East and around the world, and why we will stay so.

As our friends and partners take courageous steps forward, they can be assured that President Obama and his Administration will remain engaged for the long haul. But we will also confront these challenges with the urgency that they deserve. We dare not, and I sure you, we will not miss this moment.

Thank you. (Applause.)