WASHINGTON — Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, who returned Monday from a 10-day fact-finding trip to the Middle East, says he has renewed hopes that peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians jump-started by Secretary of State John F. Kerry will achieve a breakthrough.
After meeting with senior Israeli and Palestinian leaders as part of a large congressional delegation, the Democrat said that despite all the challenges confronting the region -- including the civil war in Syria, political strife in Egypt, and threats from Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon -- there is a palpable sense of possibility compared with his previous visit there last year.
“It came up in every meeting we had with the members of the government on both sides,” Kennedy said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “Obviously there are differences and major challenges, but every single person on both sides of the conflict...was effusive in their praise for what [Kerry] had done -- his tirelessness, relentlessness and not taking no for an answer.”
He said Palestinian officials in particular were grateful for Kerry’s ability to move the peace process forward, telling the visiting lawmakers that “he understands the Israelis, he understands their people, he understands the Palestinians, he understands our people and he knows the issues.”
“Getting them in the room is probably the easiest part going forward but it is by no means easy,” Kennedy added. “There are major challenges going forward [but] both sides, I think, have reason to be hopeful and somewhat optimistic.”
Kennedy said an especially poignant experience during the trip, during which 37 members of Congress crisscrossed Israel and the Palestinian territories was a private dinner he attended with a a 17-year-old Israeli boy and a 17-year-old Palestinian girl who completed a summer engineering workshop sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“To have them both at the same point in life hoping and dreaming the same things crystallizes it for me,” Kennedy said. “There is a whole lot of complexity, there’s a lot of nuances, a lot of history in this region. And obviously everybody knows that. But it also comes back to something so simple as the future of those two kids.”