Israel cannot afford to wait to make peace with its Arab neighbors, Secretary of State John F. Kerry argued Monday, saying that demographic forces and rising militancy are working against the top U.S. ally in the region.
“What happens in the coming days will actually dictate what happens in the coming decades,” Kerry said, referring to whether Israeli and Palestinian leaders will try again to broker peace.
“We are running out of time,” he said in remarks to the American Jewish Committee. “We’re running out of possibilities,” and failure now may mean no further chance for a negotiated deal, he added.
Kerry was addressing an audience of prominent, politically active American Jews, but he was also applying gentle pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is wary of making concessions as part of the process to restart talks.
The secretary of state said some Israelis are “lulling themselves into a delusion” that the status quo of a relatively secure Israel in permanent conflict with its neighbors can endure.
“A stalemate today will not remain one tomorrow,” Kerry said, adding that Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state is in doubt without a permanent peace.
The American Jewish Committee is a long-standing champion of Israel, and many of its members are politically aligned with Netanyahu’s center-right coalition government.
In making his case, Kerry said there is no “one-state solution,” a reference to the idea that Israel might be a permanent occupier or that the Palestinian territories might be absorbed into Israel.
The higher Palestinian birthrate would quickly make Jews a minority in such a state, although Kerry did not spell that out. He said that the six-decade-old conflict is a constant source of anger and militancy and that those forces are only growing stronger the longer the Palestinians are stateless.
Kerry plans to return to Jerusalem soon. It is unclear whether he can use his next visit to Israel and the West Bank to announce a start date for direct talks, the goal of his roughly monthly trips since taking office in February.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has not publicly committed to attend. He is under heavy pressure to do so without first winning a “freeze” on new Israeli home-building on land that the Palestinians claim for a future state.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, who is playing a key role as a go-between with Palestinian leaders, announced in the West Bank on Sunday that Kerry would return to the region “within days.”
Earlier Monday, Kerry declined to say whether he thinks his message of urgency is getting through to Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
“I am confident that both sides are weighing the choices that they have in front of them very, very seriously,” Kerry said at the State Department. “I think they need to have an opportunity to do that, and I will make a judgment at some point whether I need to go push a little bit or help that process.”
He said he will not present a U.S. peace plan, but American, Israeli and Palestinian officials have said Kerry is trying to draw a framework for the first serious peace talks in about five years.
Although Kerry said peace will require compromises, he did not list anything specific he wants Israel to do and never mentioned settlements or the Palestinian claim to a right of return to land that is now Israel.
Kerry has said that there is no specific deadline for his efforts, but he does not publicly rebut Palestinian claims that they have given him only until early this month to make headway.