U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed unguarded optimism about resolving the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians, despite describing it as “the biggest, the longest, the most complicated and the most vexing” of all international conflicts.
In an address to the staff and families of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem at the start of his talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Kerry said that the formula to achieve progress is to “address the security needs of Israel – and they are real - and the state aspiration of the Palestinian people – and they are real.”
But Kerry did not only dwell on diplomatic blueprints, he also waxed lyrical when he told American, Israeli and Palestinian consular staff in the guarded enclosure in Jerusalem’s Agron Street: “As you gather out here in this garden like this, I was listening to the birds sing, and you look at the light and you feel the peacefulness of this little enclave, and you obviously can’t help but say to yourself, “Why can’t we have this everywhere?”
“And I believe we can. I really believe that or I wouldn’t have taken on this job at the request of the President; I wouldn’t be back here for my multiple-whatever-umpteenth trip here as a Senator and Secretary, and for my third trip to the region as a Secretary already.”
According to a transcript of his address released by the State Department, Kerry also drew lessons from his own military service in the Vietnam War, saying that a key to achieving progress is to “undo” the hatred that has been instilled in Israelis and Palestinians since childhood.
“I learned a long time ago when I was a soldier, when I was fighting in a war in Vietnam. It just dawned on me, when you’re holding a gun and you’re pointing it at somebody that you’ve never met and you’re in their country and you’re trying to figure out the forces that are at play. I’ve never met a child, two years old, two and a half, three years old, who hates. Children don’t hate. People are taught to hate. And what we need to do is undo that teaching, and get to a point where people begin to understand what the possibilities of life really are.”
Kerry also recounted his numerous visits to Israel during the past 25 years, saying: “I think I first came to Israel in 1986 and I spent a week traveling through the whole country. I climbed up Masada, and I floated upside down and backward in the Dead Sea and got sulfur in every part of my body, and wasn’t too sure about what I was doing. And went up to the north, to Galilee, to a small community where young kids had to hide inside of shelters in order to be safe from Katyusha rockets. I’ve been up on the Golan Heights, and I have flown over every inch of the West Bank and seen the settlements from the air, traveled across the Allenby Bridge, you name it. I think I’ve had some exposure to life here.”
“And what I’ve learned,” Kerry added, “is that Palestinian, Israeli, visitors alike, all believe in the possibility of peace.”
Kerry recounted U.S. peace efforts in other parts of the world, including Northern Ireland and Bosnia, in which progress was achieved, as well as other arenas of conflict, including Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus in which the reconciliation efforts have been less successful. But the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, he added, was the most complicated and most vexing of them all.