Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon are both ideologically opposed to Israel’s existence and have never given any indication that they would abide with any peace deal.
Furthermore, Kerry said that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement could “instantaneously” yield peace between Israel and all 57 members of the Islamic bloc. But those countries’ have tied any recognition of Israel to a peace deal containing specific elements that no Israeli government is likely to accept.
Speaking in Jerusalem during the latest in a string of visits, Kerry showed no signs of flagging enthusiasm, five months after he coaxed Israel and the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) to begin yet another effort to negotiate an end to the lengthy conflict.
He acknowledged that the matters being wrangled over in the talks were “complicated issues that involve the survival and the future of peoples,” but argued that it was important to look beyond the difficulties.
Kerry said he had told both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that “now is not the time to get trapped in the sort of up and down of the day-to-day challenges.”
“We don’t have the luxury of dwelling on the obstacles that we all know could distract us from our goal,” he said. “What we need to do is lift our sights and look ahead and keep in mind the vision of what can come if we can move forward.”
“The benefits for both sides are really enormous, and people don’t talk about it enough or think about it enough,” Kerry said. He noted that the Saudi-proposed Arab Peace Initiative (API) “holds out the prospect that if the parties could arrive at a peaceful resolution, you could instantaneously have peace between the 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations, all of whom have said they will recognize Israel if peace is achieved.”
Those 57 nations comprise the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which endorsed the API after the Saudis first proposed it 12 years ago. (OIC member-states Egypt, Jordan and Turkey already recognize Israel as do a number of non-Arab OIC members, especially in Africa and Central Asia.)
One of the reasons the API never went anywhere was because Israel rejected several core ingredients. One called for a “just solution” to the issue of Palestinian refugees that would allow those wanting to return to areas they or previous generations had left to do so.
The U.N. today defines some five million people in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan as “Palestinian refugees.” Israel has a total population of just 7.9 million.
Another element of the API demanded that Israel relinquish all the territory it captured during the 1967 Six Day War. Although Arab states said last year they were open to “minor” land swaps, the location of future borders remains a major sticking-point, as current difficulties over the Jordan Valley have shown.
The Golan Heights was also covered in the API demands, but as with the Jordan Valley Israel’s top military brass say the conflict in Syria has only strengthened the security arguments in favor of holding onto the strategic plateau permanently.
Having raised the prospect of 57 Islamic states making peace with Israel, Kerry continued, “Imagine how that changes the dynamics of travel, of business, of education, of opportunity in this region, of stability. Imagine what peace could mean for trade and tourism, what it could mean for developing technology and talent, for job opportunities for the younger generation, for generations in all of these countries.
“Imagine what peace could mean for an Israel where schoolchildren – some of whom I’ve seen in the course of my many visits here – so that they could actually run around a playground without the threat that a rocket might come from Gaza or from Lebanon and have to seek shelter during the course of the day.”
Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, refuses to recognize Israel today as it has since it was first established in 1987 with a charter committed to destroying the Jewish state. Since seizing control of Gaza in 2007 from the larger Palestinian faction, Fatah, it has fired – or allowed others to fire – well over 5,000 rockets into Israel, according to Israeli military data. Hamas has also unambiguously rejected the API.
Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite militia that operates in Lebanon, is a significantly better armed foe, which during a war in the summer of 2006 fired thousands of rockets, many reaching deep into Israeli territory.
Within three years of the end of that conflict, and despite U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for Hezbollah to be disarmed, Israel said the group had rearmed with Syrian and Iranian help, and had accumulated a stockpile of more than 40,000 rockets.
Both Hezbollah and its primary sponsor, Iran, have vowed never to recognize or make peace with Israel.
From Jerusalem, Kerry traveled to Saudi Arabia to discuss his mission with King Abdullah.
In a brief joint media appearance afterwards with his Saudi counterpart, Saud al-Faisal, Kerry was upbeat about the API and Saudi efforts to build support for it, although Saud said only that Saudi Arabia would support a peace agreement that “responds to Palestinian national wishes.”