WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State John Kerry appealed for patience on Iran and for trust and compassion on peace with the Palestinian people, calling for “fear to be defeated” in a forceful address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday night.
“It is no mystery what the endgame really looks like,” Kerry said. “We’re at a point in history that requires the United States, as Israel’s closest friend and the world’s preeminent power, to help end this conflict once and for all.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas believe a two-state solution will require the recognition of “two states for two peoples,” he said, without explicitly addressing a requirement of the Israeli government that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland.
“We’re not doing this on a whim and a prayer,” he said.
Kerry’s efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians have earned him praise from parties across the aisle, including AIPAC, which has effectively sidelined the issue in recent years to focus its lobbying efforts on Iran and its nuclear program.
Only weeks after starting at the State Department, Kerry restarted peace talks for a defined nine-month period, after four years of silence between the two sides. That negotiating window will expire next month; the secretary hopes to publish an agreed-upon framework for the continuation of negotiations before then.
In a meeting with US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Monday afternoon, Netanyahu seemed to throw cold water on the prospect of a swift resolution to the historic conflict, thanking the president and Kerry for their efforts while insisting on a list of demands that his Palestinian counterpart, Abbas, has publicly ruled out.
“Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven’t,” Netanyahu said to Obama in front of the press. “The people of Israel know that it’s the case.”
“What we want is peace – not a piece of paper,” he said.
He repeated his call for the Palestinian leader to recognize the right of the Jewish people to self-determination.
Obama has demonstrated his commitment to Israel’s security, Kerry argued in his speech Monday night, by pursuing diplomatic efforts on issues that pose the most dire challenges to the state.
“Security – security is what this president is committed to,” Kerry said. “And so too is he committed to using the full force of our diplomacy to resolve the two great questions that most matter to a security for Israel that can never be shaken: preventing a nuclear Iran and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Speaking on Iran’s nuclear program – AIPAC’s top priority, as outlined by its legislative agenda released over the weekend – Kerry said that Iran would have to prove its nuclear work is, and remains, exclusively peaceful.
“This is not about trusting Iran. This is about testing Iran,” Kerry said.
After reaching a historic interim deal last fall that effectively froze the nuclear crisis, comprehensive nuclear talks began in February between world powers and the Islamic Republic.
The deal grants the parties six months to a year to negotiate.
That process might be the “last, best chance to have diplomacy work – and maybe the last chance for some time,” Kerry said. “Those who say strike and hit, need to go look at what happens after you’ve done that.”
Kerry warned that a strike would likely result in Iran pulling out of the UN’s Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and would likely drive its weaponization efforts underground.
Kerry maintained that only once forceful diplomacy should fail would the US be justified in using “forceful actions,” adding that “only strong diplomacy can guarantee that a nuclear weapons program actually goes away.”
A final agreement will have to “make certain that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon,” he said, adding that the agreement will have to increase US “visibility on the nuclear program and expand the break-out time” Iran would require to produce a nuclear bomb.
Kerry’s comments reflect a policy position from the White House that AIPAC and the Israeli government take issue with: that an endgame to the crisis may involve an Iran that retains any nuclear program at all.
The secretary also addressed a growing delegitimization campaign against Israel, long entrenched across the Muslim world but gaining steam in Europe and the US.
In his most popular line to the conference, packed with over 14,000 guests, Kerry called the boycotts “arbitrary” and said his opposition to them is “unapologetic.”
In early February, Kerry was criticized by Israeli government officials for suggesting that Israel might bring upon itself greater pressure from anti-Israel movements should peace talks fail with the Palestinians.
“You see for Israel, there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things,” he said at the time in Munich. “Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained.”
He pushed back on those comments in his speech on Monday night, vowing the US would use “every tool” at its disposal to defeat those efforts.