‘This is worth it, folks,’ Kerry says of talks– and warns of ‘avoiding war’

Israel/Palestine
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We’ve had so many posts mocking John Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy that it is only fair to post some of his press conference today from Tel Aviv in which he repeatedly stated that he is positive about a possible resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Let’s be clear: the two sides won’t even sit down with one another. And Kerry can’t say what terms they’ve gotten closer on during long nights of discussion, or even if they’ve discussed settlements, which Israel increased on the occasion of Kerry’s visit. But he kept saying he was “positive.” Some of his remarks, and answers:

I am pleased to tell you that we have made real progress on this trip, and I believe that with a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach. We started out with very wide gaps and we have narrowed those considerably. We have some specific details and work to pursue, but I am absolutely confident that we are on the right track and that all of the parties are working in very good faith in order to get to the right place….

And as I have talked the last few days intensively with leaders in Jordan, in the West Bank, in Palestine, as well as in Israel with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas particularly, I’ve really been impressed with their serious commitment to this task. They have spent hours working through language, working through ideas, and the effort that they and their teams have put into this convinces me of their interest in being successful.

They understand that in the pursuit of this new partnership, one ally none of us have is time. Time threatens the situations on the ground, it allows them to worsen, it provides time for misinterpretations, mistrust to harden. It allows time for vacuums to be filled by bad actors….

So our immediate goal is, of course, to resume permanent status negotiations. It is not to negotiate for the sake of negotiating. What we want, and most important, what the people who live here want, all of the people who live here, is an enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that is a solution that will lead to two states for two peoples which the majority of Israelis and Palestinians clearly want. It is a solution that will strengthen Israel’s security and it will strengthen its future as a Jewish state, and that will give the Palestinian people the chance to fulfill their legitimate aspirations in a country of their own…

Both leaders have asked me to continue my efforts to help bring them together, and I am leaving several staff people here to work on these details in the next week or so. And I believe their request to me to return to the area soon is a sign that they share my cautious optimism, and that is why they’ve asked me to come back here as we complete the work on these details.

Michael Gordon of The New York Times: “Sir, for three days you’ve been meeting day and night, traveling back and forth between Jordan and Israel. If it’s been this difficult to get the parties to agree even to sit down together and negotiate, why is there reason to think that negotiations would actually succeed?

“And a related question: The Israelis say Prime Minister Netanyahu offered a package by the end of your marathon session and Mr. Erekat says there was no breakthrough. You’ve talked of progress. What is this progress that you say you’ve made here? What are the main elements of the package that you’re trying to put together?”

Kerry: Well, I’m not going to go into any of the elements of the package, Michael, because we have all agreed that the best way to serve this effort is not to be floating ideas or possibilities out there for everybody to tear apart and evaluate and analyze….

So as I said, the gaps were very broad when we began. They are now, I think, very narrow. And we have, as I said, some work to do. I’m leaving staff here. I wouldn’t be doing that if I didn’t believe we had something serious to work on. And I’m going to come back because both leaders have asked me to, and I think I wouldn’t be asked to and I wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t some hope and possibility in that.

So I think this is worth it, folks. This has been years and years and years. If it takes another week or two weeks or some more time, that’s minimal, minuscule compared to the stakes and compared to what we’re trying to do. And the fact that both parties have insisted that they want to continue and work on where we are and insist that it’s important for me to come back at the appropriate time, I will do so. That’s what President Obama committed to and that’s the work that he’s asked me to do…

I’m feeling very hopeful, as I said earlier, that we have a concept that is being now fleshed out and that people have a sense of how this might be able to go forward. And that is why I said that I believe the start of negotiations could be within reach. Obviously, the work has to be completed. People have to make a few choices still. But the gap has been narrowed very significantly…

So I’m not going to get into them. It’s a mistake. We are committed through this process. When and if we get to those negotiations, which I hope we will get to, we are committed not to talk about what we’re doing, because that’s the way we’re going to be able to really work seriously.

Abdul Raouk-Arnout of Al-Ayam newspaper: “Mr. Secretary, for the last three days, you’ve been shuttling between Amman, Ramallah, and Jerusalem. Now, we know nothing about these meetings. How these meetings were going? What difficult – it’s about, I think, 20 hours of meetings with President Arafat – President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu. So can you describe these meetings, how well it going? And you’ve said that you don’t want to get into the details. Fine, but the issue of settlements, is it the main obstacle that you’ve been facing at these meetings?”

Kerry: The answer is no, there are any number of obstacles, but we’re working through them. And we made progress, as I said, in every sector. We still have, as I said, a little bit of work to do, and I look forward to doing it. But we have widened – again, we have taken a very, very wide gap and we’ve narrowed it. And these are very complicated talks because the stakes are very, very high for everybody. This is about a country, two countries and two peoples and peace and the possibilities of avoiding war and how you guarantee things where years and years of conflict have hardened feelings and hardened emotions and hardened realities.

So it’s hard to work through that. I’m impressed by the attitude, I’m impressed by the seriousness, I’m impressed by the commitment. The fact that we sat there for all those hours; worked through difficult issues; worked through hard, long-term, entrenched beliefs; and found facts and found a way to organize some thoughts is very, very important here. And so I’m very positive. …

This process has been pretty dead in the water for four or five years. So we’re trying to come back from that, and I’m encouraged by the seriousness of purpose indicated by both teams. They are working hard. We all are. And we’re determined to get there, all of us.

I’m pleased and proud of the work that everybody has done. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his team were up until – I think we were there till 4:00 in the morning this morning, working for hours, and we did that the day before, and again with President Abbas. Frankly, we need to take a little more time to work with both sides on a couple of issues that I think are worth working on.

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