Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Monday pushed for the resumption of a stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying a status quo is not sustainable as time is running out.
"What happens in the coming days will actually dictate what happens in the coming decades," Mr. Kerry said at the American Jewish Committee's Global Forum in Washington. "We're running out of time. We're running out of possibilities. But let's be clear: if we do not succeed now ... we may not get another chance."
"The best way to truly ensure Israel's security today and for future generations is by ending once and for all the conflict with the Palestinians, by summoning the courage to achieve peace, and by reaching a negotiated resolution that results in two states for two peoples, each able to fulfill their legitimate national aspirations in a homeland of their own," Mr. Kerry said.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, speaking after Mr. Kerry, said a two-state solution — which envisions Israel as a state for the Jews and Palestine for the Arabs — is in Israel's interests.
"Pushing, addressing, accepting, promoting the idea of two states for two peoples, this is a true Israeli interest. It is not favor to the Palestinians, it is not a matter of weakness and it is not even a present to the president of the United States," Mrs. Livni said. "This is something that we need for ourselves, but it is not an easy decision."
Mr. Kerry is expected to travel soon to the Middle East to try and jump start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that has been stalled since December of 2008.
Speaking at the State Department earlier on Monday, Mr. Kerry said he was confident that "both sides are weighing the choices that they have in front of them very, very seriously."
He said he would "make a judgment at some point whether I need to go push a little bit or help that process, and I'm certainly willing to."
Since taking office in February, Mr. Kerry has traveled to Israel in March, April and May to try and breathe new life into the peace process.
If the peace process doesn't work, "we will find ourselves in a negative spiral ... that will clearly slam the door on a two-state solution and the insidious campaign to delegitimize Israel will only gain steam," Mr. Kerry told the audience of politically active Jewish Americans. "Israel will be left to chose between being a Jewish state or a democratic state, but it will not be able to fulfill the founders' vision of being both at once."
Mrs. Livni, who also serves as Israel's chief negotiator in talks with the Palestinians, said that in a choice between the land and Israel as a Jewish democratic state, she would pick the latter.
"Postponing these decisions is going to be an historical mistake, we cannot afford it," Mrs. Livni said. "We are facing this process of de-legitimization of the state of Israel and Israel is losing its legitimacy."
Mrs. Livni said the decades-old conflict is also being used by extremists to incite violence, which is another reason to take it off the table.
She lauded Mr. Kerry's initiative to push the peace process.
"When the secretary of State is so enthusiastic about having negotiations, with a deep understanding of what are Israel's security needs, this is good news for Israel," she said. "Not everything is a zero-sum game."
"Having a new secretary of State coming with all this determination, not just waiting for both sides to enter the room, but pushing in a way ... I believe that this is good news and I believe that you should thank him for this," Mrs. Livni told the audience.
Mrs. Livni said signing a peace agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was similar to signing a check linked to a bank account that is empty.
"[Mr. Abbas] cannot deliver in Gaza, but we need his signature," she said.
The Gaza Strip is controlled by Hamas, a militant group that is committed to the destruction of Israel.
Mr. Kerry said he believed both Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be partners in peace. It was important to recognize the Palestinians' aspirations to live in peace in their own state, he said.
Mr. Abbas is under pressure to join the peace process without first securing an Israeli promise to freeze construction in Jewish settlements.
The failure of the peace process would undermine the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which has committed itself to nonviolence, Mr. Kerry warned.
"If that experiment [in the West Bank] is allowed to fail, ask yourselves 'What will replace it?" he said.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a recorded message to the meeting, urged support for Mr. Kerry's Middle East initiative, saying it may well be the last chance for a two-state solution.
Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said Greece supports Mr. Kerry's initiative.
"Let's hope that reason will prevail," he said.
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