Press Availability in Tel Aviv, Israel

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ben Gurion International Airport
Tel Aviv, Israel
May 24, 2013

The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks very much, folks. Appreciate your patience. It’s really been terrific to be back here in Israel, and also to be able to pay a visit to the Palestinian territories. Enjoyed a shawarma and a small walk on the streets, which was fun.

I had very productive meetings with leaders in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority. As everyone knows, Israel remains our closest ally and a partner in the region, and we will continue to work together in order to enhance regional security and stability. And we will also continue to work with the Palestinian Authority in order to help them to be able to reach and meet their aspirations.

I believe that President Obama’s trip here earlier in the year opened up a window of opportunity, and it showed that there are strong constituencies for peace both in the West Bank, in the Palestinian territories, as well as in Israel. The polls overwhelmingly showed – perhaps 68, 72 percent of the people of Israel believed in a two-state solution. Peace is actually possible, notwithstanding the doubts that some people have because of past disappointments.

So the bulk of my discussions while I was here were therefore focused on how to move forward to try to achieve the negotiations that are necessary to bring about a just and lasting peace and security. I will continue my close engagement with both the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders going forward as needed in an effort to try to bridge any divide or to try to find the framework by which negotiations could begin.

I am convinced that the people on both sides of this conflict want it to end, but there are obviously different views about how to get there or who takes the first step or what the successive measures are in order to be able to get there. And so that’s what we have to deal with here. Israelis have a clear priority, which we understand and support, with respect to the issue of security, and they need and deserve that security. Palestinians have a priority concern with respect to knowing that they can secure an independent, sovereign, and prosperous state with clear lines as defined previously by them and others along the 1967 lines with swaps and recognizing changes that have taken place on the ground, as President Obama stated in his vision in 2011.

There is one way to make any of these visions a reality, and that is through direct negotiations. Ultimately it is the Israeli and the Palestinian people who will both decide the outcome or even the possibility of getting to those negotiations, and it is ultimately the people of Israel and Palestinians who will achieve the greatest benefits from a peace, and it is they who must make their voices heard.

Leaving this conflict unresolved for decades has deprived generations of security, and it has deprived people of the recognition that they deserve. And it is clear that – despite the sense of status quo, which for many is acceptable, it is clear that, in the long run, that status quo is not really sustainable. We all know that the longer it takes to bring about a peaceful end to this conflict the more and more difficult it will become to do so.

So I made clear in my discussions that the parties should be focused on making progress towards the direct negotiation, and each side needs to work to build trust and each side needs to refrain from any provocative rhetoric or actions that take us backwards. Ultimately, ending this conflict will take leadership on both sides. And as we look to restart negotiations, we look forward to working with the Israeli Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his new government, as well as the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of President Abbas.

Achieving a lasting peace is also in the interests of all the communities in this region, all of the countries in the region. Just last month in Washington, the Arab League representatives stood up and reiterated their support for ending this conflict, and they moved voluntarily to adjust the initiative to reflect where we are today with the realities on the ground.

In addition, I will say that in every conversation I have had in the trips the President has asked me to make over the course of the last months – whether in China or Japan, or throughout Europe or throughout the Gulf, or visitors who have come to see me as recently as last week, the day before – the day I left to come here, the Foreign Minister of Brazil, Antonio Patriota, or the Foreign Minister of New Zealand, Mr. McCully – all said – they almost began their conversations with discussion of the need for and the potential of peace within the Middle East. This is a global concern for a lot of different reasons.

I was very encouraged by the statement from the Arab League delegation that said that a future agreement ought to be based on a two-state solution along the ’67 lines with comparable and mutually agreed upon swaps. The United States remains deeply committed to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security, and it is only through direct negotiations that the Israelis and the Palestinians can address the permanent status issues and achieve the peace that both deserve – a peace with two states for two peoples with a sovereign and viable, independent Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security with a Palestinian homeland and a homeland for the Jewish people. That remains our goal.

I know that in some corridors, I know there are those who are skeptical, and some even because of prolonged skepticism might even call themselves cynical. And there are legitimate reasons for that. There have been years of disappointments. It’s our hope that by being methodical, being careful, being patient, but detailed and tenacious, that we can find a path that will ultimately lead to peace. I emphasize it will not be because the United States makes it happen or some other country does – this is a peace that must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians and their elected leadership. That is what we’re working towards.

I thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for his warm and generous welcome while here, his hospitality. I thank him for his efforts and I thank President Abbas for his warm hospitality and for his efforts. And I call on both of them in the next days to demonstrate the leadership that I believe the people in the Palestinian territories and in Israel hope for.

Thank you. I’d be happy to answer any questions.

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary – sorry.

SECRETARY KERRY: Or any questions. I guess I’m --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. The Secretary will take five questions this afternoon. The first will be from Arshad Mohammed of Reuters.

SECRETARY KERRY: Arshad, you’re on.

QUESTION: In Rome two weeks ago, you’ve said you believe both the Israelis and the Palestinians, both sides, were serious about the possibility of resuming peace negotiations. Last week, Israeli court documents showed that the government plans to retroactively legalize four previously illegal outposts.


QUESTION: Is that the act of a government that is serious about peace talks? Have you asked the Israeli Government for a full public settlement freeze if they get into talks? And can you point to actions on either side that demonstrate – that show seriousness?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not going to comment on what was asked for, not asked for, what was – any of the sort of private conversations I’ve had with the leaders except to say this: That issue was raised appropriately, and we did discuss the status of settlements overall and the need for both sides to take steps that indicate a willingness to try to move forward.

Now, the United States position with respect to settlements is clear, and it has not changed. We believe they should stop. That is a position that has been consistent not just by the United States but by the international community. And it is also clear that when actions are taken – whether by court or otherwise – it is our view that those actions can be deemed by some to be provocative, and they are not necessarily constructive with respect to the process. So it is our hope that there will be a minimal effort there.

Now, some of this is, frankly, beyond the control, and I understand that. There are some private and individual permits granted some time ago, and in terms of the legality, there is no capacity to move on them. But in other ways, certainly the government has an ability to be able to make a difference here in the next months. It’s my hope that they will, but I’m not going to go into any specific discussion of sort of what steps they may or may not take or where we are.

As I’ve said, we are trying to get to talks without pre-conditions. We do not want to get stuck in a place where we are arguing about a particular substantive issue that is actually part of a final settlement, and that argument takes you so long that you never get to the negotiations that bring about the final settlement. So the key here, in my judgment, is to show patience on both sides. There will be things that each side may choose to do that may create problems for the other side or change the politics. That’s pretty normal out here in this part of the world. Our hope is that everybody will stay focused on the prize, focused on the goal, and that is to negotiate in full faith on the broad basis that ends the anxiety and the tension over some of these other issues, because you’ve actually solved them by reaching a settlement on the broader components of the conflict itself.

MS. PSAKI: The next question will come from Christine Renawi.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m from Palestine TV and (inaudible) news agency. Yeah, about Israel declared recently that it’s in the process of legitimatizing the four settlement outposts in the Palestinian territories. What’s your position towards that? And finally, what are the prospects of the peace process on the light of your meetings with Netanyahu and Mr. President Abbas?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as I just said, our position on settlements and outposts and on the legalization is that we are opposed to it. We believe that that is not appropriate, and, in fact, is not constructive in the context of our efforts to move forward. But it should not be something, as I just said, that prevents us from being able to get to negotiations, because if you can negotiate borders, and if you negotiate security and get to a final settlement, you have resolved the issue of settlements themselves. That’s the way you resolve the issue, is by deciding what is in the Palestinian state and what are the rules there and what is Israel and what are the rules there. And the sooner we get to that, the sooner the question of settlements is resolved.

With respect to where we are in the process, I’m not going to comment, except to say that we have reached – I’ve been here now a number of times. Both sides know what the choices are. Both sides know what is needed in order to try to move forward. And it’s really time for the governments to make their decisions. Are they prepared? This is not something, as I said, that we can decide. This is something that the leaders of Israel and the leaders of the Palestinian Authority have to decide. And we’re getting towards a time now where hard decisions need to be made.

MS. PSAKI: The next question will come from Michael Gordon of The New York Times.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Palestinian officials have said that June 7th is the date by which they hope to see discernible progress in the peace process. They say that you’ve asked them to suspend their efforts to join international organizations or take steps that would reinforce their claim to statehood prior to that. What do you hope to accomplish in June? Is that month a target date for you? And if there is no progress in that month, what restraint will you ask for of each side?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to get into specific dates, Michael. I don’t think setting one date or another unilaterally and arbitrarily necessarily advances things. But I will say this: President Obama, when he was here, made it very clear to all of the folks that he talked with – he made it clear to the Palestinians, he made it clear to the Israeli leadership – that he was going to give this a certain period of time, a few months is the term that he phrased it in, and then he was going to take stock of where we are to try to determine whether or not the parties are serious about coming back to the table and negotiating. He was here March 23rd. We are now May 23rd; that’s two months. And we’re moving into June.

So we are obviously moving in to a point where, as I just said, we are reaching the time where leaders need to make hard decisions. And I think that speaks for itself.

MS. PSAKI: The next question will come from Mala Barty from Israeli Channel 10.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is there any readiness from the Israeli side to go for confidence-building measures such as settlement freeze in the territories prior to the resumption of negotiation? If not, is there a readiness from the Palestinian side to go back to the table without getting these steps from the Israelis prior to the resumption? And in a more important sense, we know there are gaps. But you were here a month ago, and you’re saying the time is running out. And we understand that you will plan to come back here next Monday, but you somehow not (inaudible) regarding what happened in the last day.


QUESTION: But what’s necessary to – now to happen in order for you to come back for next round of talk? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me begin by saying that time is running is out is sort of the wrong phraseology, if you don’t mind my saying so. It – the question is whether or not people are going to make the hard choices with respect to getting back to negotiations, and the timeframe within which the President said he wanted to have a sense of that is obviously coming due. But no, I think that it’s important for us to not create some sort of artificial standard. If it’s a week, two weeks, something like that, I think we need to allow folks to make their decisions within a reasonable framework in the next days ahead.

I don’t know what this thing about Monday is. I think we had a day where I might have been able to come back if I needed to, but I don’t think I do need to. And so I’m going to be speaking at the World Economic Forum; I’ll have a little more to say there about this process. But then I’m going to go on to other meetings and other business that I have as Secretary of State, while others obviously consider the choices that they know now are clear and the ways that we have offered to think about how we might proceed forward. So in that regard, those are the hard choices that need to be made.

MS. PSAKI: The final question will be from Jo Biddle of AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I actually want to turn to Iran. This week, the Guardian Council authored a list of 80 candidates who are permitted to stand in the June 14th presidential elections. After initially barring all 30 women candidates, they’ve also ruled out several moderates, including former-President Rafsanjani and only allowed a hand-picked that served so loyal to the Supreme Leader to stand. While it isn’t – obviously not up to the U.S. to choose who should stand in the Iranian elections, does this hand-picked slate of candidates represent a fair and free choice for all the people of Iran across a broad spectrum of Iranian society? And how concerned are you that the leadership which emerges from the vote will actually toughen Iran’s stand on its nuclear program? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I can’t think of anybody in the world looking at Iran’s election who wouldn’t be amazed by a process by which an unelected Guardian Council, which is unaccountable to the Iranian people, has actually disqualified hundreds of candidates, potential candidates, according to very vague criteria, which the Iranian people are not privileged to know or judge by. The council narrowed a list of almost 700 potential candidates down to the sort of officials of their choice based solely on who represents the regime’s interests, obviously, rather than who might represent some different point of view among the Iranian people. That is hardly an election by standards which most people in most countries judge free, fair, open, accessible, accountable elections. The lack of transparency obviously makes it highly unlikely that that slate of candidates is either going to represent the broad will of the Iranian people or represent a change of any legitimate kind.

So in addition to that, there are some troubling signs that Iranian Government is now taking steps to slow down or even cut off internet access, which is the process by which people can take part in the sharing of information and the exchange of ideas in an election. So ultimately, the Iranian people will be prevented not only from choosing someone who might have reflected their point of view, but also taking part in a way that is essential to any kind of legitimate democracy.

So we’ll have to see what develops, but it’s our hope still that the Supreme Leader and the Iranian leadership will come to the table in a serious way with a serious offer in order to prove that their nuclear program, which they profess is peaceful, is indeed peaceful. And I would reiterate – and I’ve said this before, and now it is almost a month or so even later – the clock is clearly ticking. And even today there are reports from the IAEA of its dissatisfaction with its access, and we know of the continued efforts of Iranian development of its program.

So this is an issue which is very, very much on our radar screen. We think about it and look at it every single day, take stock of it on a regular basis, and our hope is, for the sake of the region, the world, the Iranian people, ourselves, that we can have a peaceful resolution. But it is going to have to be demonstrated much more affirmatively than it has been to date that Iran is interested in that kind of a solution and that they are, indeed, prepared to prove that their program is peaceful.

I will repeat what I’ve said previously: Notwithstanding my criticism that I just made of the election process, the President of the United States has from day one said that he is open to trying to work towards a relationship with Iran that sees them rejoin the community of nations, lift sanctions, move to participation in international organizations, and assume a role like other nations that is responsible and accountable to the rule of law that we live by in the international community. That is the preferred hope of the American people and I think people in the world.

The Iranian leadership needs to make its decisions whether or not it wants to go down that road or the alternative. And the alternative is obviously one that none of us are looking for or want to contemplate. But the President has made it clear it is not one that he shies away from, if that is the only option that is left to him.

Thank you all very much. Appreciate it. Thank you.

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PRN: 2013/ T07-09