‘Israel has to be strong to make peace, and peace will also make Israel stronger,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday, speaking at the Brookings Institute’s annual Saban Forum in Washington.
Back in the US after his 8th trip to the region in recent months, Kerry spoke at length about the US’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security, declaring that the Obama administration has “done more to make Israel more secure” than administrations before it.
He said the security plan he presented in Jerusalem and Ramallah this week was the most thorough analysis ever “of the Israeli requirements that arise from the potential of a two-state solution” and that the US was working with Jordan and the Palestinians to “create a layered approach that both guarantees Israel’s security and fully respects Palestinian sovereignty.”
He added: “Every time I visit, I can feel in my gut, and I see it, as well as hear it first hand, just how vulnerable Israel can be and just how important it is for US commitment to its security to remain ironclad. Ours is a commitment that spans decades…
“We will always stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself. And the US is particularly prepared to be the first and fastest to Israel’s side at any time of crisis,” the US secretary of state vowed.
Kerry also stressed heavily the importance of peace with the Palestinians and the two-state solution to the conflict.
“We are convinced that the greatest security [for Israel] will actually come from a two-state solution that brings Israel lasting peace, shared prosperity throughout the region, good relations among neighbors, peace of mind for the people of Israel and for Palestinians alike. None of this is possible without addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns, and ensuring that as a result of peace, Israelis feel more secure, and are more secure, not less,” he said.
“That is why security led our agendas in Jerusalem and Ramallah this week,” Kerry stressed.
But, he warned, in reference to the threat to Israel as a Jewish democracy if it cannot reach an accommodation with the Palestinians, that “force cannot defeat or defuse the demographic time bomb. The only way to secure Israel’s long term future is through negotiations.”
The Palestinian refugee situation must be resolved, a Palestinian state must be established, and “recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people” must be achieved, he said.
Addressing Israeli arguments that territorial withdrawals from Gaza in 2005 and Lebanon only worsened Israel’s security situation, Kerry said it was because none of the issues were settled during what were unilateral moves. ”Unilateral is not an answer. You’ve got to resolve the fundamentals of this conflict.”
A lack of a final status agreement, “leaves things to mischief, and to all the worst forces that can fill a vacuum,” he warned.
Echoing remarks made earlier Saturday at the same forum by President Barack Obama, Kerry said: “There is no mystery about what a two-state solution looks like.”
He added: “If you care about Israel, its future, if you care about Palestinians, we need to believe that peace is possible and we need to act on that belief,” he went on.
Speaking of US efforts in ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which recommenced in July under heavy US pressure, and of security proposals he unveiled to the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships in Jerusalem and Ramallah this week, Kerry said that “never before has the US done such a thorough security analysis of the Israeli requirements that arise from the potential of a two-state solution. Never.”
Kerry said the US was coordinating with the Jordanians and the Palestinians to “create a layered approach that both guarantees Israel’s security and fully respects Palestinian sovereignty.”
“We are examining every potential security scenario, something on the border, something in the future, terrorism in the future, a weakness in the Hashemite Kingdom, whatever it might be,” he said.
The secretary also spoke about the recent nuclear deal signed with Iran in Geneva, vowing that the US will “not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Not now, not ever.”
Earlier at the forum, Obama spoke at length about the Iranian nuclear deal, saying that although the interim deal with Iran does not give it the right to enrich uranium, the regime could be allowed to have a peaceful nuclear program with “modest enrichment” capability under a permanent deal.