Kerry scur­ries to sal­vage talks be­tween Is­rael, Pales­tini­ans

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY MATTHEW LEE

JERUSALEM | Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry scram­bled Wed­nes­day to sal­vage his sig­na­ture for­eign pol­icy goal as he shut­tled be­tween Is­raeli and Pales­tinian lead­ers, try­ing to keep fal­ter­ing peace talks from col­lapse.

Mr. Kerry was met with com­plaints from both sides and strug­gled to re­main op­ti­mistic amid pub­lic anger that threat­ens the po­lit­i­cal will of each side to ne­go­ti­ate in pur­suit of an agree­ment.

On his fifth solo trip to the re­gion this year, Mr. Kerry met twice with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu in Jerusalem and once with Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas in the West Bank town of Beth­le­hem. He is to see Mr. Ab­bas again Thurs­day in Am­man, Jor­dan.

U.S.-bro­kered talks for Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace be­gan at Mr. Kerry’s be­hest three months ago. Lit­tle, if any, progress has been ev­i­dent.

The talks were sup­posed to pro­duce a deal by the end of April 2014.

“As in any ne­go­ti­a­tion, there will be mo­ments of up and mo­ments of down,” Mr. Kerry said, as the par­ties traded barbs about who is to blame for the cur­rent state of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“We are con­vinced that de­spite the dif­fi­cul­ties, both lead­ers, Pres­i­dent Ab­bas and Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu, are also de­ter­mined to work to­ward this goal,” he said in Beth­le­hem, where he an­nounced that the U.S. would give an ad­di­tional $75 mil­lion in aid to cre­ate jobs for Pales­tini­ans and help them im­prove roads, schools and other in­fra­struc­ture.

The as­sis­tance is de­signed to boost Pales­tinian sup­port for the peace process, which is low be­cause of Is­rael’s con­struc­tion projects in ar­eas claimed by the Pales­tini­ans for their fu­ture state.

Ten­sion clearly was run­ning high af­ter the Pales­tini­ans said se­cret ne­go­ti­a­tions on Tues­day broke down in a dis­pute over Is­raeli set­tle­ment con­struc­tion.

In­tro­duc­ing Mr. Kerry in Beth­le­hem, the town’s mayor de­nounced set­tle­ments as a “siege” on Pales­tinian land, and Mr. Ne­tanyahu opened his first meet­ing with Mr. Kerry by bash­ing the Pales­tini­ans for their be­hav­ior in the peace talks.

Mr. Kerry was left to ca­jole the par­ties into be­liev­ing that peace deal is not a pipe dream.

“This is not mis­sion im­pos­si­ble,” Mr. Kerry said af­ter a brief meet­ing with Is­raeli Pres­i­dent Shi­mon Peres.

Mr. Kerry de­nied that Mr. Ab­bas had agreed to “con­done or ac­cept” set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity.

“The Pales­tini­ans be­lieve that the set­tle­ments are il­le­gal, the United States has said it be­lieves the set­tle­ments are not help­ful and are il­le­git­i­mate,” Mr. Kerry said. “That is not to say that they were not aware or we were not aware that there would be con­struc­tion, but that that would be much bet­ter off, in our judg­ment, lim­ited as much as pos­si­ble.”

Mr. Ne­tanyahu was not char­i­ta­ble to­ward the Pales­tini­ans as he com­plained to Mr. Kerry that the talks are go­ing nowhere.

“I’m con­cerned about their progress be­cause I see the Pales­tini­ans con­tin­u­ing with in­cite­ment, con­tin­u­ing to cre­ate ar­ti­fi­cial crises, con­tin­u­ing to avoid, run away from the his­toric de­ci­sions that are needed to make a gen­uine peace,” he said.


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