Kerry scurries to salvage talks between Israel, Palestinians
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.