The two-state solution is the only path to peace, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday in Washington, less than 24 hours after Economy Minister Naftali Bennett dismissed that as unrealistic.
Kerry, who spoke at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum immediately after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s taped message, said the two-state solution is the only path to peace “for the simple reason that there is no one-state alternative that is viable or can preserve Israel’s status as a Jewish state and as a democracy.”
At the conference, Bennett – possibly a major player in the next government – defended his plan for Israel to annex 60 percent of the West Bank and grant the Palestinians in the other 40% enhanced autonomy, economic opportunities and infrastructure, adding that the idea of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was an illusion.
Without referring directly to Bennett, Kerry said that he was well aware that for many people in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, “the idea of real peace sounds dubious at best, and impossible to many.”
But, he added, he could not stress enough “how strongly the United States flat out rejects the notion that peace is a pipe dream.
In fact, the need for a two-state solution is stronger now than it was a year ago.”
Kerry said that the entire international community is feeling the “gridlock” in the diplomatic process.
Nevertheless, he said in an apparent reference to moves in Europe toward recognizing a Palestinian state, as well as Palestinian plans to take a resolution imposing a solution on Israel to the UN Security Council, “it is important to reiterate that this conflict cannot be resolved by unilateral actions or by efforts to delegitimize Israel. It must ultimately be resolved by the parties themselves.”
With an election planned in Israel, Kerry said “we don’t expect negotiations to resume tomorrow.” But, he added, “achieving a negotiated two-state solution will remain high on the agenda of this administration.”
Kerry pledged that Washington will not involve itself “in any way” in the election campaign. “We look forward to working closely with the new government, whatever its composition, whenever it is formed,” he said.
Kerry echoed what Vice President Joe Biden said to the forum the night before, that the ties binding the two countries were unbreakable, and that there has never been closer security cooperation between the two nations.
At the same time, he said there are going to be tactical differences, as there are on settlements, which he said Washington “believes deeply” undermine prospects for peace and isolate Israel in the international community.
Kerry devoted the bulk of his address to charting what the US was doing to fight Islamic State, as well as explaining Washington’s thinking on Iran, and how the policy of negotiating with the Islamic Republic has rolled back its nuclear program and made the world and the region safer.
Netanyahu, in his remarks, said that while Israel was not a member of the group of nations negotiating with Iran, “our voice and our concerns played a critical role in preventing a bad deal. Now we must use the time available to increase the pressure on Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons capability.”
Regarding the Palestinians, Netanyahu challenged the narrative that Martin Indyk, the former US envoy to the Middle East and now a vice president at Brookings, put forward over the summer, placing the bulk of the responsibility for the breakdown in the recent negotiations on Netanyahu’s shoulders.
“For nine months we negotiated with the Palestinians, but they consistently refused to engage us on our legitimate security concerns, just as they refused to discuss recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, while at the same time insisting that Israel recognize a nationstate of the Palestinian people,” Netanyahu said.
“The talks didn’t end because Israel announced that it would build apartments in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem – neighborhoods that will remain a part of Israel under any conceivable peace agreement,” he said.
“The talks ended because the Palestinians wanted them to end. The talks ended because President [Mahmoud] Abbas unfortunately chose a pact with Hamas over peace with Israel.”
The Palestinian leadership is not prepared to confront violence and fanaticism in Palestinian society, and often times fuels it, the prime minister said.
“I don’t think sticking our head in the sand promotes real peace, and I don’t believe that false hopes promote real peace. I think they just push peace further away,” Netanyahu said.
He enumerated three “pillars of peace”: one, genuine mutual recognition; two, an end to all Palestinian claims, including the right of return; and three, a long-term Israeli security presence.