U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, before his departure from Israel, Dec. 6, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, before his departure from Israel, Dec. 6, 2013. Photo by AP
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks before his departure at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Dec. 6, 2013. Photo by AP

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that Israel and the Palestinians are closer to peace than they have been in years.

"I believe we are closer than we have been in years to bringing about the peace and the prosperity and the security that all of the people of this region deserve," he told reporters at Ben-Gurion International Airport prior to his departure from Israel.

Kerry arrived in Israel on Wednesday night and spent two days in intensive meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders discussing security arrangements for a future peace treaty.

Kerry met twice on Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and once again on Friday morning, for a total of 12 hours, and held a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday that lasted more than four hours.

In the press briefing Friday, Kerry stressed that the negotiations were progressing, but that Netanyahu could not move forward on other core issues before resolving security concerns.

"The people who really know what's going on (in the negotiating room) are not talking about it. The fact that no information is coming out doesn't mean the talks are not productive," Kerry said at the press conference, adding that both Netanyahu and Abbas remain committed to continuing peace talks, despite opposition in each of their camps.

Kerry said he presented Israel with "some thoughts" about improving its security under any eventual accord, and that despite negotiations being conducted directly between Israel and the Palestinians, the United States believes it can make a contribution in this area. Kerry added that 160 experts and employees of the American administration were involved in the preparation of the security plan presented by General John Allen on Thursday to Netanyahu and Abbas. "We believe that we can contribute ideas that could help both Israelis and Palestinians get to an agreement," Kerry said.

The secretary of state added that the United States would not support an agreement that fails to increase Israel's security on the one hand and won't grant the Palestinians the independent state they deserve on the other. "If Israel's security can't increase as a result of an agreement, it's very difficult to make an agreement. Obviously, security is paramount in the minds of the prime minister and his team with respect to their ability to move forward on other issues."

Kerry eulogized the late South African President Nelson Mandela and paraphrased a quote of his by saying "The naysayers are wrong to say peace in this region is impossible. It always seems impossible until it is done."

Kerry is slated to speak at the Saban Forum, a conference on U.S.-Israel ties, in Washington on Saturday and return to the Middle East next week.