Remarks at the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for Assistance to the Palestinians

John Kerry
Secretary of State
United Nations Headquarters
New York City
September 19, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Borge, thank you very much. Colleagues, ambassadors and representatives, all, thank you very much for being here with us (inaudible). Let me begin by expressing my appreciation to the United Nations (inaudible) for hosting (inaudible) sincere thanks to our friend, also a tireless advocate for peace (inaudible) Borge Brende for chairing this meeting and for Norway’s incredible leadership for years through the AHLC. And it is a little shocking (inaudible) that it’s ad hoc after these 22 years, but that’s a reason that we’re here to talk about it today. I’m also pleased to see Prime Minister Hamdallah here and Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hanegbi. And I’m happy that (inaudible).

Let me take a moment at the outset, if I can, just to send my thoughts and prayers of our country and me personally to a great friend of all of us here, President Shimon Peres. Shimon is literally one of the great statesmen of the world, a global leader, a man of extraordinary eloquence. He is somebody I have admired as much as anybody in public life for years now, and every time (inaudible) and I listen to his (inaudible). And I think everybody here would agree he is one of the great warriors of peace. So to Shimon, I would say that I am confident that I’m speaking for everyone in this room when I say that we are thinking about you and we are praying for you.

This is my fourth and last visit to the AHLC as Secretary of State, and I want to take a moment to reflect in a very serious way on where we are and where we’re going from here. Let me be absolutely clear: The United States remains deeply committed to two states, the fundamental vision of two states that Jeffrey just referred to – one Israeli, one Palestinian – living side by side in peace, security, and prosperity. We believe very deeply – President Obama, myself, every member of our Administration – that that is the only way for the two sides to realize their aspirations: the Israelis to live in peace as a Jewish and democratic state; the Palestinians to enjoy self-determination and freedom in a state of their own. But if we are going to be honest – and we need to be honest – I particularly intend to be honest in this fourth and final year of our Administration – after multiple visits, multiple discussions, hours spent with prime ministers (inaudible) President of the Palestinian Authority, one can only conclude that at the moment, unnecessarily, the trends are moving in the wrong direction, making the prospects for peace more remote, not less remote.

Now, every single terrible act of violence, every new settlement announcement takes us not closer to peace; they take us closer to a one-state solution. That is no solution (inaudible). I repeat, no solution at all. It is an invitation to perpetual conflict. And as Shimon Peres himself said, quote, “Anyone who rejects the two-state solution won’t bring a one-state solution. They will instead bring one war, not one state.” Make no mistake about it, I believe that is the risk if we continue on the current course.

That is why the Quartet Report suggests the urgency of reversing current trends and made basic recommendations for both sides based on their own prior commitments, their own prior commitments to take affirmative steps to start creating a peaceful two-state reality on the ground.

So what has happened since the report was issued just last July, folks, a couple months ago? Well, we’ve seen a surge in violence this past week with six stabbing attacks and a car-ramming. There’s no excuse for that – none. Incitement remains an issue. Earlier this month there was a post on the Fatah Facebook glorifying the terrorist attacks at the Munich Olympics where 11 innocent Israelis were killed. How does that contribute (inaudible)?

And just since July 1st, over 2,400 settlement units have been advanced for Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, unauthorized settlement units have been retroactively legalized, and there has been a dramatic acceleration of demolitions resulting in over 186 Palestinian structures destroyed, displacing more than 270 Palestinians. How does that contribute to peace?

And this is just the continuation, frankly, of a long process of settlement expansion – lands seized, demolitions – that is systematically undermining the two-state solution. In fact, statistics released just last week show that just since President Obama took office, the number and the settlers in the West Bank alone has grown by over 95,000 people, from 290,000 to 385,000, over 15,000 in the last year alone. I think everybody or most people around this table would ask: How does increasing the number of settlers indicate an attempt to create a Palestinian state?

And we very much appreciate the efforts of the UN special coordinator and his team, who continue to work tirelessly and effectively to keep us apprised of the conflicts on these critical issues. It’s especially important to understand exactly what is going on for one simple reason: We cannot continue on this path.

President Obama has said several times in speeches at the UN, I have said a number of times: The status quo is not sustainable. So either we mean it and we act on it, or we should shut up.

Now, there is some progress that is taking place in small ways – never enough to be able to change the equation, however. I want to make that clear. But I want to thank the hard work of very practical Israelis and Palestinians. The parties just signed, as Borge mentioned, an important agreement that fixes an electricity payment system for the West Bank that’s been broken for years. We commend both sides for that effort, and that’s the culmination of long and complex negotiation. And Israel has now described plans for a children’s hospital in Area C, upgrades to Allenby, and a new master plan. But I might remind everybody that when we had an agreement to proceed forward with negotiations a couple of years ago, we had an entire laydown of economic initiatives for the bank, most of which simply were not implemented.

Israel has also announced now some important steps for Gaza, including its intention to allow a gas pipeline that can power an electric plant in Gaza and sell significant additional quantities of water to the West Bank and Gaza. And we very much hope that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism will continue to enable essential materials to get into Gaza safely and effectively as part of reconstruction efforts.

These are the kinds of common-sense steps that, if implemented, will take us forward in a positive way. Nobody denies that. But there’s no political horizon in any of it. There’s no understanding of when, how, or if negotiations might begin or what the results may be. I believe everyone has the best intentions, but too often these agreements and these approvals are announced but they don’t actually (inaudible). I know this because I was told the Allenby Bridge would open 24/7. It never did. I was told that the 3G agreement signed nearly a year ago would take place within months. It still is not fully implemented.

So follow-through is the key here, but also making sure we have some kind of political horizon is also key. If all the things that have been promised actually do take place, it’s a step in the right direction. But much more remains to be done, including facilitating private sector investment. I want to thank Kito de Boer and his team have done extraordinary work under very difficult circumstances in trying to move ahead. But they understand that investment in policy and economy needs to be led by the Palestinian private sector. Global investors from the Arab states, the West, and the Palestinian diaspora, in partnership with the Palestinian Authority, to help launch a range of projects and bring services and prosperity to the Palestinian people, and they could do it quite quickly.

If we really want to get serious about a two-state solution, we need much more than just one-time agreements and improvements. As the Quartet Report described, we need to fundamentally change the dynamic by resuming the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority in Area C, which was called for in prior agreements.

We need positive and significant policy shifts and the transfer of real power and responsibility to the Palestinians across a range of sectors. And I want to stress that progress in areas of housing, water, energy, communications, agriculture and natural resources, along with significantly easing restrictions on Palestinian movement can and should be made while simultaneously respecting Israel’s legitimate security needs.

In short, we start – we need to start implementing a two-state solution on the ground right now. We all understand that a permanent status agreement that finally ends the conflict can only be achieved through direct bilateral negotiations between the parties. But important progress towards creating a two-state reality and saving it from the current trend is absolutely critical. And that’s the only way to restore hope and lay the groundwork for successful negotiations.

So today, my friends, we are at a crossroads. Either we reverse course and take serious steps on the path to a two-state solution or the momentum of existing actions will carry us further towards an intractable one-state reality that nobody wants and nobody really thinks can work. The consequences of the current trends reverberate far beyond the immediate damage and the destruction and the displacement may cause. What’s happening today destroys hope. It empowers extremists and it empowers those who argue that peace is impossible when we need to be doing just the opposite.

So, my friends, the stakes for the future could not be higher for Israeli children who should not have to go about their lives with fear of rockets or being attacked in their bedroom, and for Palestinian children who should not have to live under perpetual occupation and without hope for the future. These are choices that are being made for them right now and I think everybody here understands they deserve better.

In the end, I believe we actually do want the same things – two states, two peoples; a viable and independent Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security and prosperity with Israel. It is achievable, but only with purpose, with direction, with courage, with leadership, with a clear understanding of the reality and of the urgency of the choices that we face at this moment.

Thank you all very much for the privilege of sharing with you and I hope we can get this job done. It can be achieved. Thank you. (Applause.)