Secretary of State John Kerry believes that time is running out for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with at most two years before it is no longer possible.
During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) asked the Secretary about President Obama’s recent trip to Israel and the West Bank, inquiring about the stalled peace process. Kerry’s response highlighted the urgency with which the administration views restarting talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders:
KERRY: But I can guarantee you that am committed to this, because I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting. I think we have some period of time a year, a year and a half, to two years or its over. [...] So there’s an urgency to this in my mind, and I intend, on behalf of the President’s instructions, to honor that urgency and see what we can do to move forward.
Later in the hearing, Rep. Ted Deutch (R-FL) followed up on Engel’s earlier question, placing the onus of restarting negotiations solely on the Palestinians. Deutch specifically asked why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had not done more to “prepare his people for peace,” lamenting Palestinian preconditions on negotiations — like demanding Israel end its illegal settlement construction — and its push for statehood recognition at the United Nations.
“Look, the hurdle we have to get over here, part of the difficulty is the level of mistrust on both sides is gigantic,” Kerry responded. “President Abbas deep-down is not convinced — and that may be a light word for it — that Prime Minister Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and Israel are ever going to give them a state. And on the other side, Israel is not convinced that the Palestinians and others ever going to give them the security that they need. So we have to find an equation here, folks, where we can try to dispel those years of mistrust and get both sides to understand that both things are in fact possible.”
While President Clinton laid the groundwork, U.S. support for the two-state solution has been official policy since 2002, when President George W. Bush announced his desire to see an independent Israel and Palestine living side-by-side. Since then, the peace process has moved forward in fits and starts before and stalled in 2010. While a report from CAP in 2009 also implied that the window of opportunity is closing, this is the first time a Secretary of State has been so blunt in producing a narrow timeframe. Secretary Kerry recently returned from his third trip to the Middle East in the latest round of shuttle diplomacy intended to jump-start direct negotiations between both sides.
As CAP’s Matt Duss notes, however, in the absence of direct talks, there are several options the United States could pursue in the meantime to help lay the ground for a lasting peace. And while the political process has yet to move forward, the U.S. did win agreement from Netanyahu and Abbas to help boost economic development in the West Bank. Kerry, in response to questions from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lesthein (R-FL), made clear that the economic process is meant to move forward along side the political track, not as a replacement.