Jan. 6 (JTA) For 55 years, support of the State of Israel has been a central keystone of American foreign policy. We cannot neglect our indispensable role in the search for peace in the most volatile region of the world. But the Bush Administration’s lurching from episodic involvement to recurrent disengagement has jeopardized the security of Israel, encouraged Palestinian extremists and undermined our own long term national interests. Leaders of good will on both sides, private citizens, and public officials are working to advance the peace process. The recent effort by former officials of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to lay out a possible agreement on final-status issues demonstrates that they understand that it may be easier to break the stalemate and end the violence fostered by extremists if the endgame is the focus, not the steps leading up to it. In the first days of a Kerry administration, I will appoint a presidential ambassador to the peace process who will report directly to me and the Secretary of State and who will work day to day to move the process forward and make an early assessment of how to build on areas of agreement and disagreement. The envoy that I will appoint will have the confidence and ability to speak with all parties. After my trip to the Middle East in early 2002, I publicly suggested that President Clinton would be a superb choice for this position, and I continue to believe that. I will also work to hold the Saudis accountable for their continued reluctance to aggressively root out terrorism in the Middle East. America cannot afford to be indifferent to a country whose actions often speak louder than its words when it comes to fighting terrorism. Saudi Arabia’s support for Islamic extremism is well known. And while Saudi officials and spokesmen have said repeatedly that the Saudi government is opposed to every form of terrorism, the Saudi regime openly and enthusiastically supports Hamas. The Saudis cannot pick and choose among terrorist groups, approving some while claiming to oppose others. One would think that a president who threatens the world by announcing “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists” would be particularly troubled by the actions of the Saudi regime. But then one would be underestimating the hypocrisy that has become the hallmark of the Bush Administration. It’s time to put the U.S.-Saudi relationship on a frank and balanced basis. Forging a stable and lasting peace in the Middle East is vital to American national security, to the security of Israel and other countries in the region, and to the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a viable Palestinian state. It is also an essential part of winning the war on terror. The United States must actively engage in the peace process keeping both sides focused on the endgame of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security and helping them take the necessary steps to build enough confidence and trust in each other to get there. Israel’s very survival in a hostile and dangerous region has always been predicated on the steadfast, unwavering and full support of the United States. In my administration, America’s commitment to Israel will never waiver. I will vigorously protect the separation of church and state. Diversity, freedom of choice and freedom of religion are among the defining characteristics of our nation. I believe we can be people of faith while respecting the principles that are enshrined in our Constitution. Faith-based organizations make great contributions to social-service programs. However, I am wary of any direct funding of religious organizations by the federal government without constitutional safeguards and protections, such as ensuring that government funding is not used for proselytizing. And I oppose any initiatives that allow federally funded programs to discriminate based on religion when making hiring decisions. I believe the government can find ways to support the efforts of faith-based organizations without running afoul of the Constitution. I do not support private school vouchers. I understand the frustration that some parents must feel. But I do not believe that providing government funding to private educational programs is the answer. As president, I will do everything I can to support public schools and promote greater public-school choice. I will never resort to gimmicks that undermine public schools and threaten the separation between church and state. It is critical to have an administration that honors the line of separation between church and state. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has worked aggressively to trample this line, putting one of our fundamental freedoms at risk. I will restore the separation that we cherish as Americans. John Kerry represents Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate.
John Kerry’s statement