US Secretary of State John Kerry praised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for their courage in pursuing peace.
Just prior to his departure from the region after a visit to Israel and Palestinian Authority-ruled areas, Kerry said that peace has never been closer.
"For now, let me just now reiterate how grateful I am for the courage
that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas both continue to
display against naysayers, against opponents, as they pursue a full
exploration of the possibilities of peace," Kerry said.
"I believe we are closer than
we have been in years to bringing about the peace and the prosperity and
the security that all of the people of this region deserve and yearn
Kerry, following three meetings over the last 36 hours with Netanyahu, said before leaving Friday afternoon that if Israel's security cannot be increased through an agreement with the Palestinians, it will be difficult to reach an agreement.
Kerry, speaking to reporters traveling with him, said that progress was being made in the talks. He said he was able to speak of progress because "we have gone through a very detailed, lengthy, in-depth analysis of the security challenges of the region, particularly the challenges to Israel and the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian state."
Kerry said that this process has taken time, and that retired US General John Allen briefed Netanyahu about various security concepts.
He said he feels that Allen's analysis – supported by the work of some 160 US officials from the Defense Department, the State Department, and White House and intelligence community – could "help both the Palestinians and Israelis make judgments about some of the choices that are important for arriving at an agreement." And that, he said, "is progress."
Kerry said that security was paramount in Netanyahu's mind with respect to Israel's ability to move forward on other issues.
"If Israel's security cannot be increased through this agreement, it is very difficult to make an agreement," he said. "So we are making certain that we are addressing each and every one of those questions." Kerry, who reiterated that he was the only one designated to talk about the negotiations, said that the fact that no information is coming out about the talks, does not mean that they were not productive.
Neither he, Netanyahu, nor Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would be spending "all this time" if they were not "hammering out important concepts" and engaging in serious conversations, Kerry said.
He met twice Thursday, and once Friday, with Netanyahu, and once on Thursday with Abbas.
Regarding Iran, Kerry – asked whether he was leaving Israel with any commitment from Netanyahu to tone down criticism of the Iran deal – said that the prime minister "has every right in the world to make his views known with respect to his concerns about the security of his country."
Amid some criticism in the US that Netanyahu was too heavily involved in trying to influence Congress regarding ratcheting sanctions up on Iran, Kerry said that he did not discuss this issue at all with the prime minister.
According to Kerry, Netanyahu has "been extremely constructive" concerning the next steps and where we need to go now. "He understands that we are now in the real negotiations."
Kerry said that he told Netanyahu that I am "firmly convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that Israel is safer today after we have reached this first step agreement than it was before we reached it." The Secretary of State said that the US and Israel were working "very closely" on what a final comprehensive agreement on Iran should look like.
"Israel and the United States are absolutely in synch," he said, "not an ounce of daylight between us with respect to the need to make sure that Iran cannot achieve a nuclear weapons, will not in the future be able to achieve it, and certainly cannot move toward it without the United States and Israel knowing that, and therefore being able to take steps to deal with it.