U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said some progress toward reviving Middle East peace talks needs to be made “long before September,” when the next session of the United Nations General Assembly will begin.
While Kerry said he will set no deadlines for kick-starting a new round of negotiations, he said yesterday at an appearance with his Kuwaiti counterpart that time “allows a vacuum to be filled by people who don’t want things to happen,” and unforeseen dangers can arise.
Kerry was greeted by such a development yesterday, when Israel approved plans for 69 new housing units in a section of Jerusalem that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War and Palestinians consider occupied territory. A municipal building committee approved the permits, city spokeswoman Brachie Sprung said by telephone.
Israel continues to build in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which the U.S. State Department has called “unproductive.” The latest move to add housing is unhelpful as the U.S. urges all parties to help create a climate for peace, a department official said yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity in advance of Kerry’s meetings.
The Palestinians have refused to return to talks without a freeze in settlement construction, and they have signaled they might resume their quest at the UN to join the International Criminal Court.
Now Kerry is in Amman, Jordan, for three days of consultations with Israeli and Palestinian leaders aimed at bringing them to the table for the first time in almost three years.
Kerry had a private lunch and meeting today with King Abdullah II of Jordan and is scheduled to have a private dinner tonight in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, followed by a meeting tomorrow in Amman with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas said in an interview with Al Jazeera television yesterday that he hopes Kerry brings “something important” and new that will help narrow the gaps with Israel and lead to fresh talks. Netanyahu said this week that he’ll engage in peace negotiations if Palestinians indicate they’re willing to address all substantial issues and resolve the conflict.
Netanyahu is willing to withdraw from more than 90 percent of the West Bank if his security concerns are met, Ha’aretz newspaper said today, citing an unidentified Israeli minister. The prime minister has said any Palestinian state must be demilitarized, and Israel needs to maintain a security presence on the border between the West Bank and Jordan.
“Peace is based on security,” Netanyahu said today at a ceremony in Jerusalem. “It is not based on goodwill and legitimacy,” he said, in remarks broadcast on Army Radio.
The goal of Kerry’s sessions with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders is to come up with confidence-building measures and a formula for getting both sides back to the negotiating table, said a State Department official who briefed reporters today on the condition of anonymity to discuss private consultations.
Part of the strategy involves selling Abbas on an economic plan to spur private investment for economic development in the West Bank if a two-state solution could be worked out, the official said. No U.S. government funding would be involved, the official said.
Kerry wants to listen to both sides to get a sense of what each needs and what each may be willing to do to resume negotiations, the official said.
Progress is urgent “because time is the enemy of a peace process,” Kerry said yesterday in Kuwait City, alongside Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah. The passage of time, Kerry said, “has the ability to wear out people’s patience and to feed cynicism and to give people a sense of impossibility where there in fact is possibility.”
The timing of the UN General Assembly in September is significant because last year it recognized the Palestinians as an “observer state,” and they have threatened to use UN organizations such as the ICC to level war-crimes charges against Israel.
Kerry has thrown himself into reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, making his fifth trip to Israel since he became the top U.S. diplomat in February. He’s pushing for renewed talks even amid a crush of competing demands in the Middle East, including Syria’s civil war, violence in Iraq and Libya, tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, and worries about the stability of Egypt and Jordan.
An agreement with the Palestinians is possible and Israel should do more to strengthen them as peace partners, departing Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said today on Army Radio. Fischer steps down from the bank on June 30.
Kerry said he’s committed to trying because both Netanyahu and Abbas have shown a “seriousness of purpose” in wanting a peace deal.
“I wouldn’t be here now if I didn’t have a belief that this is possible,” Kerry said. “But it’s difficult. If this were easy, it would have been done a long time ago.”
Kerry denied an Israeli news report that he was preparing for three-way talks between U.S., Israeli and Palestinian officials this week under the auspices of Jordan’s king.
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