WASHINGTON - In his first address to an American Jewish audience as secretary of state on Monday, John Kerry made a passionate case for renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, calling on both sides to "summon the courage" to negotiate.
"We are running out of time," Kerry said. "We are running out of possibilities."
While reassuring the pro-Israel crowd that America would always support and defend the Jewish State, Kerry warned the American Jewish Committee that the status quo in the region was unsustainable.
"A stalemate today will not remain tomorrow," Kerry said. "In this conflict, the simple fact is tomorrow is not guaranteed to look like today."
"The people who think somehow because there is a fence and because there’s been greater security and fewer people hurt are lulling themselves into a delusion that that somehow can be sustained," Kerry added, in an allusion to what he referred to as "cynics" on the issue.
"The absence of peace is perpetual conflict... We will find ourselves in a negative spiral of responses and counter-responses that could literally slam the door on a two-state solution," he said.
Resuming office last February, Kerry has been vocal about his interest in solving the historic conflict. In recent weeks, he has repeatedly warned that time is running out for both a feasible peace agreement, and for American patience with political dithering from both sides.
In the speech in Washington, almost entirely devoted to the peace process, Kerry acknowledged that his personal interest in a resolution, and his tactics, are creating risks themselves.
"Let’s be clear: If we do not succeed now – and I know I’m raising those stakes – but if we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance. So we can’t let the disappointments of the past hold the future prisoner."
"I fully recognize the challenges and predicament in which Israel finds itself, but I also firmly believe this is a hopeful time if we choose to make it so. This can actually be a time for possibility, a time for promise," Kerry said.
"I still believe peace is achievable," he added.
Ready with a laundry list of the benefits of success and the pitfalls that come with failure, Kerry noted that Israeli tourism - which lags behind Cyprus due to fears of conflict, despite having major historical sites such as the Old City of Jerusalem - would boom with a final settlement reached. "Quite simply, peace pays," he said.
Kerry also argued that, "in reality, the dawn of a new era" - the Arab Spring - "is exactly the kind of time to recast Israel’s relationships, to change the narrative with a new generation that is starting to make its voice heard." He was answering critics in Israel that argue that instability in the region makes this a time for entrenchment over risk-taking.
On the other hand, Kerry asked the audience what would happen if the West Bank economy bottomed out, with a collapse in confidence in the Palestinian Authority; and he warned that, without a solution, political pressure would mount for Abbas to take Israel to the International Criminal Court.
The secretary, who has visited Israel nearly as many times in four months at the State Department as his predecessor did in four years, uttered familiar Hebrew phrases and quoted the Bible that there is a future for the man of peace.
"Challenges are not met by giving in to doubts," he said.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni arrived in Washington on Monday to address the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum and is expected to meet Kerry to discuss his efforts to re-start Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Kerry is expected to arrive for his fifth visit to the region "within days," Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said on Sunday. He is expected to visit Amman over efforts to restart the peace process.
Earlier on Monday, Kerry said he would decide at some point whether to return to Israel and the Palestinian territories to push for decisions by the two sides on reviving talks.
"I will make a judgment at some point whether I need to go and push a little bit, or help that process, and I am certainly willing to. I am open to that possibility but we are not raising any expectations about an American plan," Kerry told reporters at a news conference with the Polish foreign minister.
Reuters, Herb Keinon and JPost.com staff contributed to this report.