U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Israel and the Palestinians must resume negotiations soon that can lead to creation of a Palestinian state and ensure Israel's future as a peaceful democracy.
Without peace, extremists will grow stronger and Israel will be forced to militarize even further, Clinton said. "And without peace, the inexorable math of demographics will one day force Israelis to choose between preserving their democracy and remaining a Jewish homeland."
Addressing a forum last night of Israeli and U.S. leaders organized by the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy group, Clinton said "the dynamics of ideology, technology and demography conspire" to make it impossible to delay negotiations for too long.
She delivered her remarks during a turbulent week. Palestinians won elevated status at the United Nations over objections by Israel and the U.S. on Nov. 29, while Israel announced plans to pursue settlement construction that would divide the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority broke down in September 2010 after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month building freeze in West Bank Jewish settlements. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he wouldn't negotiate unless Israel stops its construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Before speaking, Clinton held brief meetings with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Clinton said the U.S. remains committed to Israel's security amid major transitions in the region and the threat of Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions.
"The world knows that whenever Israel is threatened, America will be there," she said. "That is a good thing, because we are in the midst of a transformative moment in the Middle East, one that offers as many questions as answers about Israel's place in the emerging regional order."
Iran must be prevented from gaining a nuclear weapon, Clinton said, warning that the U.S. wouldn't "talk indefinitely."
President Barack Obama "has made clear that all options are on the table," she said. "And by now it should be clear, this is a president who does not bluff."
After the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., Israel and the European Union, "America and Israel have to work together with partners in the region to turn the cease-fire into a lasting calm," Clinton said.
She closed by saying that Israel and the U.S. had to work to ensure the transitions sweeping some of Israel's neighbors in the Middle East bring "the region closer to, not farther away from, peace and security."
As the U.S. supports countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen in their nascent democratic transitions, Clinton said the Obama administration is also making clear they must fight terrorism and extremism and honor international commitments.
"Working closely with them on these critical issues does not mean we seek a return to the old bargain," Clinton said. "Honoring obligations abroad does not lessen the need for those governments to respect fundamental rights, build strong checks and balances and seek dialogue at home."
In response to questions after her remarks, Clinton said well-deserved suspicion has left the Israelis with a lack of "generosity" and "empathy" for the Palestinians. She urged the Israelis to be "generous" with the Palestinian Authority, saying that it's still possible to reach an agreement with secular West Bank Palestinians and create some stability.