U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a stark warning to Israel on Thursday, saying it faces international isolation and a possible explosion of violence if it does not make progress in peace efforts with the Palestinians.
Kerry issued the blunt remarks in a joint interview with Israeli and Palestinian television channels, ensuring the message would reach its intended audience.
“The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos. I mean does Israel want a third intifada?” Kerry said, using the term for past Palestinian uprisings against Israeli occupation.
Kerry has been shuttling this week among Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan in a frantic bid to get the peace negotiations back on track amid rising public anger among Palestinians over Israeli settlement activity and among Israelis over the release of Palestinian prisoners.
In the television interview, Kerry said a failure in the talks could be devastating.
“If we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel. There will be an increasing campaign of de-legitimization of Israel (that) has been taking place in an international basis,” he said.
If Israel cannot reach peace with the current Palestinian leadership, Kerry added, “you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.” Excerpts of his comments were aired on Israel’s Channel 2 TV, hours before the full interview was to be broadcast.
Kerry recorded the interview in Jerusalem early Thursday before heading to neighboring Jordan, where he tried to rally support for his peace efforts from King Abdullah II.
In Amman, Kerry also warned of a return to violence if peace efforts fail, and rejected suggestions that he scale back his ambition to forge a final settlement with an interim agreement. He said he still believed it could be done by an April 2014 target date.
“What is the alternative to peace?” Kerry asked at a joint news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. “Prolonged continued conflict.”
Kerry appealed for Israelis and Palestinians to take the peace process seriously and for their leaders to overcome differences that have hamstrung the talks since they began three months ago.
He acknowledged the hurdles, but said he was convinced that both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were committed to the negotiations
“I am pleased to say that despite difficulties, and we all understand what they are, these discussions have been productive,” he said.
Kerry said he would make an unscheduled return to Jerusalem on Friday morning for a breakfast meeting with Netanyahu.
Earlier Thursday, Kerry told Jordan’s king that his meetings had “created some clarity on some of the points.”
He did not elaborate, but said at the news conference with Judeh that there was “significant progress in our discussions about a couple of areas of concern in the panorama of concerns that exist.”
A statement from Jordan’s Royal Palace said Abdullah, a close U.S. Arab ally, said final status talks involve “higher Jordanian interest,” mainly a common border with a future Palestinian state, the fate of Jordan-based Palestinian refugees displaced in the 1967 Mideast war and Jerusalem, where the kingdom maintains custody over Christian and Muslim holy sites.
The king also called on the international community to help end unspecified “Israeli unilateral actions in the occupied Palestinian territories because they are illegal, illegitimate and constitute a real obstacle to peace efforts,” the statement said.
He was referring to Israeli government plans to build more settlements in the West Bank, the heartland of a future Palestinian state.
Kerry will see Abbas again Thursday night in Amman and then return to Jerusalem on Friday for a third meeting with Netanyahu in two days before continuing with his swing through the Middle East and North Africa in the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Morocco.
Since Kerry brokered the re-start of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, little progress has been made.
The secretary has been hit with complaints from both sides during his trip while working to maintain an optimistic tone.
The stalemate has prompted speculation that the U.S. may need to increase its involvement in the talks and present its own outline for peace — or lower expectations and pursue a more limited, interim agreement.
Kerry rejected the idea of an interim agreement, saying it had been tried before and not worked.
“An interim agreement only if it embraces the concept of a final status might be a step on the way, but you cannot just do an interim agreement and pretend you are dealing with the problem,” he said. “We’ve been there before. We’ve had interim agreements, we’ve had roadmaps. But if you leave the main issues hanging out there, mischief-makers will make the most of that and bad things will happen in the interval that then make it even harder to get to the final status.”
“It is imperative that we keep final status and settle this before it can’t be settled because events on the ground or other events interfere with that possibility.”
The Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. They say they’re willing to adjust those borders to allow Israel to keep some West Bank settlements as part of a “land swap.”
Netanyahu opposes a withdrawal to Israel’s pre-1967 lines, saying such borders would be indefensible.
He has also demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland, a condition they reject on the grounds that it would harm the rights of Israel’s Arab minority and Palestinian refugees who claim lost properties inside what is now Israel. Netanyahu also rejects shared control of east Jerusalem, home to key religious sites and the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.