STATE DEPARTMENT— As Israeli politicians campaign to lead a new government, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says current hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians cannot hold.
The violence that has followed the breakdown of U.S.-led peace talks shows there is no way forward without changing course, Kerry told foreign policy leaders in Washington.
“The status quo between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not sustainable, and the alternatives to peace are neither acceptable nor viable,” he said.
With Israel’s parliament dissolved ahead of fresh elections, Kerry says the Obama administration stands ready to be engaged “once the parties themselves make the tough decisions required to get back to the talks.”
“There is an election in the next few months now in Israel, and the Israeli people will have important choices to make for their future," he said. "And we look forward to working closely with the new government, whatever its composition, whenever it is formed. And we will absolutely not involve ourselves in any way in the middle of the choice of the people of Israel.”
Campaigning for re-election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the talks failed because Palestinians in the West Bank chose Hamas over peace with Israel.
“The coming election is about one question - who will lead the country through the tremendous challenges facing Israel - security, economic, regional," he said. "We need a large, experienced ruling party.”
Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog believes there can be a two-state solution.
"I think it's a mistake that we already assumed that it's over. It is part of that tragedy that unfolds in front of our eyes," he said. "It is not true. I am telling you absolutely. It is possible, absolutely possible still to make peace with the Palestinians."
With security high among Israeli electoral concerns, Kerry says regional unity in the fight against Islamic State militants - who are also known as Daesh - could help ease the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We continue to explore how the new regional dynamic regarding Daesh and the Arab world will enhance the security of Israel and its neighbors," he said. "Yes, we know that Israel has to be strong to make peace, but we also know that real peace will make Israel stronger.”
But Iran’s involvement in that fight in Syria and Iraq continues to concern Israeli leaders, especially as Tehran backs Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, says regional security analyst Nora Bensahel.
“For Iran, Lebanon and Syria are not that separate a thing. And of course that has effects on Israel," she said. "So I don’t think that the Iranians necessarily see what has been going on in terms of Hezbollah action in Syria as a diversion. I think they see that as one big interconnected set of issues.”
For now, Kerry says it is important to keep alive hopes for a lasting peace, to work to build the Palestinian economy and create the conditions for successful negotiations.