WASHINGTON - Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday underlined the difficulty he'll face in trying to chart a path toward Mideast peace, urging patience on the details of any two-state plan while stressing that Israel and the Palestinians might only have two years left for a deal.
He told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he was committed to breaking a logjam that includes nearly no Israeli-Palestinian talks in the past 4 1/2 years and no solution in sight after more than six decades of conflict.
But Kerry, who visited Jerusalem and the West Bank last week, said he sensed a "seriousness of purpose" in his meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He said the objective now is translating that seriousness into quick action.
The former Massachusetts senator has put new attention on restarting the peace process after his predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, did not.
"I can guarantee you that I am committed to this because I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting," Kerry told lawmakers. "I think we have some period of time - a year to year-and-a-half to two years, or it's over."
"Everybody I talk to in the region and all of the supporters globally who care . . . want us to move forward on a peace effort," he added. "They're all worried about the timing here. So there's an urgency to this, in my mind, and I intend on behalf of the president's instructions to honor that urgency and see what we can do to move forward."
Kerry didn't spell out why he believes so little time is left for an agreement that would establish an independent Palestine alongside a Jewish state recognized by its neighbors.
But these factors are likely to only make peace more difficult in the coming years, including the growing numbers and political strength of Israel's settlers.
On his trip to the region last week, Kerry sought to gauge whether Israeli and Palestinian leaders were ready to make the compromises needed for any serious peace process to be restarted. There has been little movement in recent years on questions such as final borders, security arrangements and the status of east Jerusalem, which both sides claim for their capitals.
Conscious of the failures of Democratic and Republican administrations past, Kerry has tried to avoid setting any benchmarks for progress or deadlines for steps such as the resumption of direct talks. He told lawmakers he would not lay out a "schedule or define the process, because we're in the process of working that out with the critical parties."
"We have to find an equation here where we can dispel these decades of distrust," Kerry said. "We're trying to undo years of failure. And I think one can. But it has got to go carefully, step by step."