U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders today to make the tough choices necessary to bring months of negotiations to a shared vision of peace.
“I think it’s safe to say that we know what the issues are,” Kerry said before entering a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. “The time is soon arriving where leaders are going to have to make difficult decisions.”
Standing alongside Kerry, Netanyahu accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of glorifying terrorists and said there was “growing doubt” in Israel over the Palestinian commitment to peace, illustrating the challenge Kerry faces in getting the sides to agree even on broad outlines of a deal. Kerry said his intent was to reach such a framework agreement, which would provide a springboard for a final accord.
“My role is not to impose American ideas on either side, but to facilitate the parties’ own efforts,” said Kerry, who will be shuttling between Abbas and Netanyahu during his visit. “An agreed framework would clarify and bridge the gaps between the parties so they could move toward a final peace treaty.”
The framework agreement would establish guidelines for resolving issues at the heart of the conflict, such as the final borders of Jewish and Palestinian states, conflicting claims to Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, while reserving details of implementation for a final treaty, Kerry said. “An agreed framework would be a significant breakthrough,” he said.
The U.S. brokered-negotiations, begun in late July and set to run nine months, have been strained in recent weeks by escalating Palestinian violence and moves to cement Israel’s presence in the West Bank. Palestinians see the West Bank as the heart of a future state that would include east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Israel captured all three areas in 1967 and withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
While the U.S. hasn’t given up hope of reaching a final deal by late April, a framework accord would for the first time sketch what a peace accord would look like after 20 years of on-again, off-again talks, a State Department official said earlier this week. No breakthrough is expected on this trip and no deadline for reaching a framework agreement will be set, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the negotiation sessions are confidential. An agreed framework may not be made public, the official added.
Kerry arrived just days after Israel freed a third group of Palestinian prisoners, most convicted of fatal attacks on Israelis, under a commitment it made before the talks began. Netanyahu criticized Abbas today in front of Kerry for celebrating the prisoners’ return.
“A few days ago in Ramallah, President Abbas embraced terrorists as heroes,” Netanyahu said. “To glorify the murders of innocent women and men as heroes is an outrage; this is not the way to achieve peace.”
Kerry’s arrival was preceded by Israel’s disclosure last week that it plans to build hundreds of new settler homes. A group of cabinet ministers also pushed ahead a bill to annex West Bank portions of the Jordan Valley to block any territorial concessions in the territory, which Israel regards as strategic to protecting its eastern flank.
Kerry has asked the sides not to discuss the substance of the talks, and they have largely complied. One disagreement that has emerged publicly regards future security arrangements in the Jordan Valley.
Netanyahu has said Israel must maintain a security presence in the territory even after it is handed over to the Palestinians. Palestinian officials say an Israeli military presence there would violate the sovereignty of the state they want to found.
The Palestinian Authority moved its cabinet meeting to the Jordan Valley this week to signify its opposition to the proposed legislation.
“The talks failed,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Voice of Palestine Radio this week. “We don’t need nine months to pass judgment on the negotiations. Israel has caused them to fail.”
Kerry will have to walk a delicate line in trying to attain his goal of establishing parameters for peace, said Yehuda Ben Meir, a former Israeli deputy foreign minister and a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute of National Security Studies.
“The problem with a framework agreement is that in order to reach a deal on it now, it has to be vague enough so both sides can live with it,” Ben Meir said. “But if Kerry is serious about achieving something more substantial than a photo-op, he has to demand from both sides an agreement that isn’t so vague it’s virtually meaningless.”
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