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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

John Kerry Speaks Live on U.S. Policy Towards Israel. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired December 28, 2016 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:00] JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Now you have heard that some criticize this resolution for calling East Jerusalem occupied territory. But to be clear, there was absolutely nothing new in last week's resolution on that issue. It was one of a long line of Security Council resolutions that included east Jerusalem as part of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, and that includes resolutions passed by the Security Council under President Reagan and President George H. W. Bush.

And remember that every U.S. administration since 1967, along with the entire international community, has recognized east Jerusalem as among the territories that Israel occupied in the Six-Day War.

Now, I want to stress this point. We fully respect Israel's profound historic and religious ties to the city and to its holy sites. We've never questioned that. This resolution in no manner prejudges the outcome of permanent status negotiations on east Jerusalem, which must, of course, reflect those historic ties and the realities on the ground. That's our position. We still support it.

We also strongly reject the notion that somehow the United States was the driving force behind this resolution. The Egyptians and Palestinians had long made clear to all of us, to all of the international community, their intention to bring a resolution to a vote before the end of the year. And we communicated that to the Israelis and they knew it anyway. The United States did not draft or originate this resolution, nor did we put it forward. It was drafted by Egypt -- it was drafted and I think introduced by Egypt, which is one of Israel's closest friends in the region, in coordination with the Palestinians and others.

And during the time of the process, as it went out, we made clear to others including those on the Security Council that it was possible that if the resolution were to be balanced and it were to include references to incitement and to terrorism, that it was possible the United States would then not block it, that -- if it was balanced and fair. That's a standard practice with resolutions at the Security Council. The Egyptians and the Palestinians and many others understood that if the text were more balanced, it was possible we wouldn't block it.

But we also made crystal clear that the president of the United States would not make a final decision about our own position until we saw the final text. In the end, we did not agree with every word in this resolution. There are important issues that are not sufficiently addressed or even addressed at all. But we could not, in good conscience, veto a resolution that condemns violence and incitement and reiterates what has been for a long time the overwhelming consensus and international view on settlements and calls for the parties to start taking constructive steps to advance the two-state solution on the ground.

Ultimately, it will be up to the Israeli people to decide whether the unusually heated attacks that Israeli officials have directed towards this administration best serve Israel's national interests and its relationship with an ally that has been steadfast in its support, as I described. Those attacks, alongside allegations of a U.S.-led conspiracy and other manufactured claims, distract attention from what the substance of this vote was really all about.

And we all understand that Israel faces very serious threats in a very tough neighborhood. Israelis are rightfully concerned about making sure that there is not a new terrorist haven right next door to them, often referencing what's happened with Gaza, and we understand that and we believe there are ways to meet those needs of security. And Israelis are fully justified in decrying (ph) attempts to legitimize their state question the right of a Jewish state to exist.

But this vote was not about that, it was about actions that Israelis and Palestinians are taking that are increasingly rendering a two- state solution impossible. It was not about making peace with the Palestinians now, it was about making sure that peace with the Palestinians will be possible in the future.

[12:05:05] Now, we all understand that Israel faces extraordinarily serious threats in a very tough neighborhood and the Israelis are very correct in making sure that there is not a terrorist haven right on their border.

But this vote, I can't emphasize it enough, is not about the possibility of arriving at an agreement that is going to resolve that overnight, or in one year or two years. This is about a longer process. This is about how we make peace with the Palestinians in the future, but preserve the capacity to do so.

So, how do we get there? How do we get there to that peace? Since the parties have not yet been able to resume talks, the U.S. and the Middle East quartet have repeatedly called on both sides to independently demonstrate a genuine commitment to the two state solution, not just with words but with real policies.

To create the conditions for meaningful negotiations. We called for both sides to take significant steps on the ground to reverse current trends and send a different message, a clear message that they are prepared to fundamentally change the equation without waiting for the other side to act.

We have pushed them to comply with their basic commitments under their own prior agreements in order to advance a two state reality on the ground. We have called for the Palestinians to do everything in their power to stop violence and incitement, including publicly and consistently condemning acts of terrorism and stopping the glorification of violence.

And we have called on them to continue efforts to strengthen their own institutions and to improve governance, transparency, and accountability. And we have stressed that the Hamas arms build up and militant activities in Gaza must stop. Along with our quartet partners, we have called on Israel to end the policy of settlement construction and expansion, of taking land for exclusive Israeli use and denying Palestinian development.

To reverse the current process, the U.S. and our partners have encouraged Israel to resume the transfer of greater civil authority, the Palestinians in Area C, consistent with the transition that was called for by Oslo. And we have made clear that significant progress across a range of sectors, including housing, agriculture, and natural resources can be made without negatively impacting Israel's legitimate security needs.

And we've called for significantly easing the movement and access restrictions to and from Gaza with due consideration for Israel's need to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. So, let me stress here, again, none of the steps that I just talked about would negatively impact Israel's security.

Let me also emphasize this is not about offering limited economic measures that perpetuate the status quo. We're talking about significant steps that would signal real progress towards creating two states. That's the bottom line. If we're serious about the two state solution, it's time to start implementing it right now.

Advancing the process of separation now in a serious way could make a significant difference in saving the two state solution and in building confidence in the citizens of both sides that peace is indeed possible. And much progress can be made in advance of negotiations that can lay the foundation for negotiations as contemplated by the Oslo process.

In fact, these steps will help create the conditions for successful talks. Now, in the end, we all understand that the final status agreement can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties. We've said that again and again. We cannot impose the peace.

There are other countries in the U.N. who believe it is our job to dictate the terms of the solution in the Security Council. Others want us to simply recognize a Palestinian state absent an agreement. But I want to make clear today, these are not the choices that we will make.

We choose instead to draw on the experiences of the last eight years, to provide a way forward, when the parties are ready for serious negotiations.

[12:10:06] In a place where the narratives from the past powerfully inform and mold the present, it's important to understand the history. We mark this year and next a series of milestones that I believe both illustrate the two sides of the conflict and form the basis for its resolution. It's worth touching on them briefly. One-hundred-and-twenty years ago, the first Zionist congress was convened in Basel by a group of Jewish visionaries who decided that the only effective response to the waves of anti-Semitic horrors sweeping across Europe was to create a state in the historic home of the Jewish people, where their ties to the land went back centuries; a state that could defend its borders, protect its people and live in peace with its neighbors. That was the vision. That was the modern beginning. And it remains the dream of Israel today.

Nearly 70 years ago, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 finally paved the way to making the state of Israel a reality. The concept was simple -- to create two states for two peoples, one Jewish, one Arab; to realize the national aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians. And both Israel and the PLO referenced Resolution 181 in their respective declarations of independence.

The United States recognized Israel seven minutes after its creation. But the Palestinians and the Arab world did not. And from its birth, Israel had to fight for its life. Palestinians also suffered terribly in the 1948 war, including many who had lived for generations in a land that had long been their home, too. When Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2018, the Palestinians will mark a very different anniversary -- 70 years since what they call "the Nakba," or catastrophe.

Next year will also mark 50 years since the end of the Six-Day War, when Israel again fought for its survival, and Palestinians will again mark just the opposite -- 50 years of military occupation. Both sides have accepted U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which called for the withdrawal of Israel from territory that it occupied in 1967 in return for peace and secure borders as the basis for ending the conflict.

It has been more than 20 years since Israel and the PLO signed their first agreement, the Oslo accords, and the PLO formally recognized Israel. Both sides committed to a plan to transition much of the West Bank and Gaza to Palestinian control during permanent status negotiations that would put an end to their conflict. Unfortunately, neither the transition nor the final agreement came about. And both sides bear responsibility for that.

Finally, some 15 years ago, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia came out with a historic Arab peace initiative which offered fully normalized relations with Israel when it made peace -- an enormous opportunity then and now which has never been fully embraced. That history was critical to our approach to trying to find a way to resolve the conflict. And based on my experience with both sides over the last four years, including the nine months of formal negotiations, the core issues can be resolved if there is leadership on both sides committed to finding a solution.

In the end, I believe the negotiations did not fail because the gaps were too wide, but because the level of trust was too low. Both sides were concerned that any concessions would not be reciprocated and would come at too great a political cost. And the deep public skepticism only made it more difficult for them to be able to take risks.

In the countless hours that we spent working on a detailed framework, we worked through numerous formulations and developed specific bridging proposals. And we came away with a clear understanding of the fundamental needs of both sides. In the past two-and-a-half years, I have tested ideas with regional and international stakeholders, including our quartet partners. And I believe what has emerged from all of that is a broad consensus on balanced principles that would satisfy the core needs of both sides.

[12:15:11] President Clinton deserves great credit for laying out extensive parameters designed to bridge gaps in advanced final status negotiations 16 years ago. Today, with mistrust too high to even start talks, we're at the opposite end of the spectrum. Neither side is willing to even risk acknowledging the other's bottom line and more negotiations that do not produce progress will only reinforce the worst fears. Everyone understands that negotiations would be complex and difficult and nobody can be expected to agree on the final results in advance. But if the parties could at least demonstrate that they understand the other side's most basic needs and are potentially willing to meet them if theirs are also met at the comprehensive negotiations, perhaps then enough trust could be established to enable a meaningful progress to begin.

It is in that spirit that we offer the following principles. Not to prejudge or impose an outcome, but to provide a possible basis for serious negotiations when the parties are ready. Individual countries may have more detailed policies on these issues as we do, by the way, but I believe there is a broad consensus that a final status agreement that could meet the needs of both sides would do the following.

Principle number one; provide for secure and recognized international borders between Israel and a viable and contiguous Palestine negotiated based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed equivalent swaps. Resolution 242, which has been enshrined in international law for 50 years, provides for the withdrawal of Israel from territory it occupied in 1967 in return for peace with its neighbors and secure and recognized borders. It has long been accepted by both sides and it remains the basis for an agreement today.

As secretary, one of the first issues that I worked out with the Arab League was their agreement that the reference in the Arab peace initiative to the 1957 lines would from now on include the concept of land swaps, which the Palestinians have acknowledged. This is necessary to reflect practical realities on the ground and mutually agreed equivalent swaps that will insure that the agreement is fair to both sides.

There is also broad recognition of Israel's need to ensure that the borders are secure and defensible and that the territory of Palestine is viable and contiguous. Virtually everyone that I have spoken to has been clear on this principle as well; no changes by Israel to the 1967 lines will be recognized by the international community unless agreed to by both sides.

Principle two; fulfill the vision of the U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 of two states for two peoples, one Jewish and one Arab, with mutual recognition and full equal rights for all their respective citizens. This has been the fundamental -- foundation's principle of the two-state solution from the beginning, creating a state for the Jewish people and a state for the Palestinian people where each can achieve their national aspirations. And Resolution 181 is incorporated into the foundational documents of both the Israelis and Palestinians.

Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state has been the U.S. position for years, and based on my conversations in these last months, I am absolutely convinced that many others are now prepared to accept it as well, provided the need for a Palestinian state is also addressed.

We also know that there is some 1.7 million Arab citizens who call Israel their home and must now and always be able to live as equal citizens, which makes this a difficult issue for Palestinians and others in the Arab world. That's why it is so important that in recognizing each other's homeland, Israel for the Jewish people and Palestine for the Palestinian people, both sides reaffirm their commitment to upholding full equal rights for all of their respective citizens.

[12:20:06] Principle number three; provide for a just, agreed, fair and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue. With international assistance that includes compensation, options and assistance in finding permanent homes, acknowledgment of suffering another measures necessary for comprehensive resolution consistent with two states for two peoples. The plight of many Palestinian refugees is heartbreaking, and all agree that their needs have to be addressed.

As part of a comprehensive resolution, they must be provided with compensation; their suffering must be acknowledged and there must be the need to have options and assistance in finding permanent homes. The international community can provide significant support and assistance. I know we are prepared to do that, including and raising money to help ensure the compensation and other needs of the refugees are met. And many have expressed willingness to contribute to that effort, particularly if it brings peace. But there is a general recognition that the solution must be consistent with two states for two peoples, and cannot affect the fundamental character of Israel.

Principal four, provide an agreed solution for Jerusalem as the internationally recognized capital of the two states and protect and ensure freedom of access to the holy sites consistent with the established status quo. Now Jerusalem is the most sensitive issue for both sides. And the solution will have to meet the needs, not only of the parties but of all three monotheistic faiths. That is why the holy sites that are sacred to billions of people around the world must be protected and remain accessible, and the established status unmaintained.

Most acknowledge that Jerusalem should not be divided again like it was in 1967, and we believe that. At the same time there is broad recognition that there will be no peace agreement without reconciling the basic aspirations of both sides to have capitals there. Principle 5, satisfy Israel's security needs and bring a full end, ultimately, to the occupation. While ensuring Israel can defend itself effectively and that Palestine can provide security for its people in a sovereign and non-militarized state. Security is the fundamental issue for Israel, together with a couple of others mentioned. But security is critical.

Everyone understands that no Israeli government can ever accept an agreement that does not satisfy it security needs or risk creating an enduring threadlike Gaza transferred to the West Bank. And Israel must be able to defend itself effectively, including against terrorism and other regional threats. In fact, there is a real willingness with Egypt, Jordan and others to work together with Israel on meeting key security challenges. And I believe that those collective efforts, including close coordination on border security, intelligence sharing, joint cooperation, joint operation, can all play a critical role in securing the peace.

At the same time, fully ending the occupation is the fundamental issue for the Palestinians. They need to know that the military occupation itself will really and after an agreed transitional process. They need to know they can live with freedom and dignity in sovereign state while providing security to their population even without a military of their own.

This is widely accepted as well. And it is important to understand there are many different ways without occupation for Israel and Palestine and Jordan and Egypt and the United States and others to cooperate in providing that security. Now balancing those requirements was among the most important challenges that we faced in the negotiations. But it was one where the United States has the ability to provide the most assistance.

And that is why a team that was led by General John Allen who was here, to whom I am very grateful for his many hours of effort, along with he is one of our foremost military minds and dozens of experts who the Department of Defense and other agencies, all of them engaged extensively with the Israeli defense force in trying to find solutions that could help Israel address its legitimate security needs.

[12:25:04] They developed innovative approaches to creating unprecedented multilayered border security, enhancing Palestinian capacity, enabling Israel to maintain the ability to address threats by itself, even when the occupation had ended. General Allen and his team were not suggesting one particular outcome or one particular timeline, nor were they suggesting that work technology alone would resolve these problems, they were simply working on ways to support whatever the negotiators agreed to.

And they did some very impressive work that gives me total confidence that Israel security requirements can be met. Principle six, end the conflict and all outstanding claims, enabling normalized relations and enhanced regional security for all as envisioned by the Arab peace initiative. It is essential for both sides that the final status agreement resolves all the outstanding issues and finally brings closure to this conflict. So that everyone can move ahead to a new era of peaceful coexistence and cooperation.

For Israel, this must also bring broader peace with all of its Arab neighbors. That is the fundamental promise of the Arab peace initiative, which key Arab leaders have affirmed in these most recent days. The Arab peace initiative also envisions enhanced security for all of the region. It envisages Israel being a partner in those efforts when peace is made. This is the area where Israel and the Arab world are looking at perhaps the greatest moment of potential transformation in the Middle East since Israel's creation in 1948.

The Arab world faces its own set of security challenges. With Israel- Palestinian peace, Israel, the United States, Jordan, Egypt, together with the GCC countries, would be ready and willing to define a new security partnerships for the region that would be absolutely ground breaking.

So, ladies and gentlemen, that's why it is vital that we all work to keep open the possibility of peace, that we not lose hope in the two- state solution matter how difficult it may seem. Because there really is no viable alternative. Now, we all know that a speech alone won't produce peace, but based on over 30 years of experience and the lessons from the past four years, I have suggested, I believe, and President Obama has signed on to and believes it, a path that the parties could take.

Realistic steps on the ground now, consistent with the parties own prior commitments that will begin the process of separating into two- states. A political horizon to work towards to create the conditions for a successful final status talk and a basis for negotiations that the parties could accept to demonstrate that they are serious about making peace.

We can only encourage them to take this path. We cannot walk down it for them. But if they take these steps, peace would bring extraordinary benefits in enhancing the security and stability and prosperity of Israelis, Palestinians, all of the nations of the region. The Palestinian economy has amazing potential in the context of independence, with major private sector investment possibilities. And are talented, hungry, eager to work -- a young work force.

Israel's economy could enjoy unprecedented growth as it becomes a regional economic powerhouse, taking advantage of unparallel culture of innovation and trading opportunities with new Arab partners. Meanwhile, security challenges could be addressed by an entirely new security arrangement, in which Israel cooperates openly with key Arab states.

That is the future that everybody should be working for. President Obama and I know that the incoming administration has signaled that they may take a different path. And even suggested breaking from the long-standing U.S. policies on settlements -- Jerusalem and the possibility of a two-state solution.

That is for them to decide, that's how we work. But we cannot, in good conscience, do nothing and say nothing, when we see the hope of peace slipping away. [12:30:00] This is a time to stand up for what is right. We have long

known what two-states, living side by side and peace and security looks like.