"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
AMBASSADOR ISCHINGER: Thanks very much. I think now we can continue. It’s my great pleasure now to open our second panel this morning. We have two longtime friends of the Munich Security Conference. Both of our panelists have been with the Munich Security Conference when they served in the U.S. Senate for many years. So let me welcome both Secretary John Kerry and Secretary Chuck Hagel, both now no longer in the Senate but both now for a year, for practically a year, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. Welcome, Mr. Secretaries. (Applause.)
I think the way we want to use these 45 minutes or so is that both Secretaries will offer introductory comments; and if you have a question to ask, please put it on one of the slips of paper and hand it to the staff, and then we’ll use whatever time we have to have a discussion, a Q&A session, in just a few minutes.
John, would you like to start? Thank you.
With the help of the EU and the Quartet, we are pursuing a long-sought and much-needed peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I have to tell you, the alternatives to successfully concluding the conflict, when you stop and list them, are or ought to be unacceptable to anybody. If you look at it hard, you ought to come out and say failure is not an option, though regrettably the dynamics always present the possibility.
And so together we need to help the parties break through the skepticism, which is half the challenge, and begin to believe in the possibilities that are within their grasp. As President Obama said on Tuesday, “In a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depend on all the elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy.” And it depends on harnessing the power of our strongest alliances, too. No one country can possibly hope to solve any of the challenges that I have listed on its own.
AMBASSADOR ISCHINGER: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. We have not a lot of time, so we’ll call on a few questions. I have a huge number of cards, and I apologize – I have to apologize to most of those who have written down their questions. We can literally take two or three or maximum of four depending on the length of the answers.
Let me start with a question of my own, which I’d like to address – (laughter) – to Secretary Kerry. We had the very interesting panel discussion yesterday between Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, who were both sitting right here in the first row with Martin Indyk, on the situation as where we are right now. How optimistic are you that you can actually nail this down? Question one.
Well, Mr. Ambassador, I am willing to take risks, but I’m not willing to hang myself here. (Laughter.) So I’m not going to tell you how optimistic I am. I’m going to tell you that I’m hopeful. I believe in the possibility or I wouldn’t pursue this. President Obama believes in the possibility. I don’t think we’re being quixotic and un – I’m a little surprised by some of the articles that tend to write about an obsession or a fanatical effort to try to achieve this, et cetera. We’re just working hard. We’re working hard because the consequences of failure are unacceptable.
I mean, I want you all to think about it. Ask yourselves a simple question: What happens if we can’t find a way forward? Is Fatah going to be stronger? Will Abu Mazen be strengthened? Will this man who has been committed to a peaceful process for these last years be able to hold on if it fails? What is the argument for holding on? Are we going to then see militancy? Will we then see violence? Will we then see transformation? What comes afterwards? Nobody can answer that question with any kind of comfort.
By the same token, for our friends, I see good Minister Tzipi Livni here, who has been absolutely spectacular in this process, committed to it. Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken very tough decisions to move this down the road, very tough decisions, as has President Abbas, who had the right to go to the United Nations and has foresworn it in an effort to try to keep at the table and keep the process moving.
For Israel, the stakes are also enormously high. Do they want a failure that then begs whatever may come in the form of a response from disappointed Palestinians and the Arab community? What happens to the Arab Peace Initiative if this fails? Does it disappear? What happens for Israel’s capacity to be the Israel it is today – a democratic state with the particular special Jewish character that is a central part of the narrative and of the future? What happens to that when you have a bi-national structure and people demanding rights on different terms?
So I think if you – and I’m only just scratching the surface in talking about the possibilities, and I’ve learned not to go too deep in them because it gets misinterpreted that I’m somehow suggesting, “Do this or else,” or something. I’m not. We all have a powerful, powerful interest in resolving this conflict. Everywhere I go in the world, wherever I go – I promise you, no exaggeration, the Far East, Africa, Latin America – one of the first questions out of the mouths of a foreign minister or a prime minister or a president is, “Can’t you guys do something to help bring an end to this conflict between Palestinians and Israelis?” Indonesia – people care about it because it’s become either in some places an excuse or in other places an organizing principle for efforts that can be very troubling in certain places. I believe that – and you see for Israel there’s an increasing de-legitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things. Are we all going to be better with all of that?
So I am not going to sit here and give you a measure of optimism, but I will give you a full measure of commitment. President Obama and I and our Administration are as committed to this as anything we’re engaged in because we think it can be a game-changer for the region. And as Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed said – he’s here somewhere – to a Paris meeting of the Arab League the other day, spontaneously he said, “You know, if peace is made, Israel will do more business with the Gulf states and the Middle East than it does with Europe today.”
This is the difference of 6 percent GDP per year to Israel, not to mention that today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace. Last year, not one Israeli was killed by a Palestinian from the West Bank. This year, unfortunately, there’s been an uptick in some violence. But the fact is the status quo will change if there is failure. So everybody has a stake in trying to find the pathway to success.
The final comment I would say, Mr. Ambassador, is after all of these years, after Wye, after Madrid, after Oslo, after Taba, after Camp David, after everything that has gone on, I doubt there’s anyone sitting here who doesn’t actually know pretty much what a final status agreement actually looks like. The question is: How do you get there? That’s political courage, political strength, and that’s what we have to try to summon in the next days. And I’ll just tell you I am hopeful and we will keep working at it. And we have great partners of good faith to work with, and I’m appreciative for that.