Kerry warns Israel of last chance for Middle East peace

WASHINGTON // The US has issued a stark warning to Israel to resume long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, saying if efforts fail now they may never get another chance.

"We are running out of time. We're running out of possibilities ... If we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance," John Kerry, the US secretary of state, told a forum in Washington organised by the American Jewish Community lobbying group.

His warning came amid reports that he is planning to return to the Middle East region within days for his fifth trip to Israel since he launched his bid to kick-start the negotiations in early February.

"We can't let the disappointments of the past hold the future prisoner. We can't let the absence of peace become a self-fulfilling prophecy," Mr Kerry said.

Urging the Jewish forum to reflect on what will happen if his peace efforts fail, Mr Kerry said "the absence of peace becomes perpetual conflict".

"We will find ourselves in a negative spiral of responses and counter-responses, that can literally slam the door on a two-state solution, having already agreed, I think, that there isn't a one-state one.

"And the insidious campaign to de-legitimise Israel will only gain steam."

When Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas sought upgraded UN observer status at the UN General Assembly last year, only nine countries voted against. Mr Kerry warned next time even fewer nations might oppose such a move.

Over the past four months, the top US diplomat has been engaged in intensive shuttle diplomacy aimed at finding a way back to some form of direct talks which have been in deep-freeze since late 2010.

He last visited Jerusalem and Ramallah on May 23-24 for what was his fourth visit in just over two months, the same number of trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories as his predecessor Hillary Clinton made during her four-year tenure.

Mr Kerry has insisted he is pursuing a quiet strategy, and will not reveal the contours of his plan until the two sides have made the tough decisions needed to return to the talks.

While the United States "will always have Israel's back", it would be even better "if we had some more company", Mr Kerry said.

"With the right choices and enough courage and determination there's a very different future possible for Israel."

And he vowed that "peace pays" for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

"Resolving this conflict for both sides can have far-reaching benefits that will be in everybody's interests. And the reverse is also true. Not resolving this will result in serious consequences for both."

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