A day after his boss launched a verbal attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s settlement policy, US Secretary of State John Kerry offered a more moderate tone on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks during his address to the AIPAC Policy Conference Monday evening.
In a speech that never once mentioned the settlements that US President Barack Obama criticized Sunday during an interview on the eve of his meeting with Netanyahu, Kerry instead assured attendees that “we will never let the West Bank turn into another Gaza.”
After Israel pulled all its troops and citizens out of Gaza in 2005, Hamas overran the coastal strip, turning it into a launching ground for rockets designed to harm Israeli civilians.
Kerry’s speech came hours after Netanyahu and Obama held a bilateral meeting in Washington in which the two discussed the peace process, as well as other regional concerns.
Kerry warned that a peace agreement “will take hard work and hard choices on both sides,” but promised that “America will be there every day of week, every step of the way.”
He did, however, mention that “ending the conflict means ending the incitement,” a key demand that Israel has repeatedly made of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas, said Kerry, “knows the great benefits of peace, and the great cost of failure.” Kerry added that, in talks with the leader of a “very wealthy” regional neighbor of Israel’s, he had been assured that regional investment in Israel, should peace be achieved with the Palestinians, would contribute significantly to Israel’s economy.
Kerry arrived at the conference almost a hour behind schedule, but was greeted enthusiastically with a standing ovation. Activists held cameras in the air, hoping to snap a picture of the secretary of state.
“AIPAC’s work is in the best traditions of American democracy and I thank you for practicing it,” Kerry congratulated activists in the opening minutes of his speech. “These democratic values are stamped in the DNA of the United States and Israel.
“Today as Israel faces serious challenges to her future it is America that will stand by her side,” Kerry reassured the crowd, but was greeted only by polite applause. “It is a matter of fact,” he argued, that under Obama “there has been a complete unmatched commitment to Israel’s security.”
Obama, Kerry continued, “is committed to using the full force of our diplomacy on both the peace process and on preventing a nuclear Iran.”
Kerry spoke personally about his commitment to Israel, highlighting his pro-Israel voting record in the Senate, and describing in detail an occasion on which he was allowed to fly an Israeli air force plane and found himself doing aerobatics over the Negev having come close to overflying into Egypt. That experience, he said, underlined to him how narrow Israel’s borders are, and why security is so vital a priority for Israel.