U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry departs after failing to renew peace talks, but says he will return soon • Kerry: With a little more work, final status negotiations are within reach • Israeli official: Most of U.S. pressure is now directed at Abbas.
Mati Tuchfeld, Daniel Siryoti, Yoni Hirsch and Israel Hayom Staff
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Sunday
Photo credit: Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is disappointed in the conduct of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a senior Israeli diplomatic official said on Sunday after Kerry departed Israel following his latest attempt to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Before taking off from Ben-Gurion International Airport, Kerry promised to return soon and announced that two of his aides would remain in Israel to work on bridging remaining differences that are preventing the resumption of negotiations.
A senior Israeli diplomatic official said that "most of the American pressure is directed at [Abbas] right now."
While Kerry did not succeed in arranging a meeting between Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he expressed optimism about the prospects for renewed negotiations.
"I am pleased to tell you that we have made real progress on this trip and I believe that, with a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach," Kerry told reporters on Sunday. "We started out with very wide gaps. And we have narrowed those considerably. We have some specific details and work to pursue, but I am absolutely confident that we are on the right track."
"One ally that none of us have is time. Time threatens the situations on the ground. It allows them to worsen. It provides time for misinterpretations, mistrust to harden. It allows time for vacuums to be filled by bad actors. It also allows time for people who want to undermine efforts to make peace to undertake their activities. Finally, of course, its lets patience wear thin and cynicism to solidify and for unforeseen events to ... enter into a closing window."
"So our immediate goal is of course to resume permanent status negotiations. It is not to negotiate for the sake of negotiating. What we want, and what most importantly the people who live here want ... is an enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And that is a solution that will lead to two states for two peoples, which the majority of Israelis and Palestinians clearly want."
During his most recent trip to Israel, Kerry met with Netanyahu three times for a total of 13 hours. A senior Israeli diplomatic official said Netanyahu stuck to his position that there should be no preconditions for the renewal of negotiations.
"[Abbas] presented to Kerry three conditions for the renewal of negotiations: the complete cessation of construction in Judea and Samaria, the release of all security prisoners who were arrested before the Oslo Accords and that talks on borders be based on the 1967 lines," the Israeli official said. "All of these...are not acceptable to Netanyahu as conditions for the renewal of talks."
President Shimon Peres said on Sunday night that Kerry had made progress during his trip that "shouldn't be underestimated."
"For the Palestinians and us, there is no other choice but peace, two states for two peoples," Peres said at the dedication of a science park in Beersheba. "Every other option is an old wives' tale, as there can't be peace in one country that contains two peoples."
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Israel Hayom on Sunday that Kerry's shuttle diplomacy had not led to a breakthrough. Palestinian officials did not deny, however, that progress had been made that would enable further contacts.
"Our positions are known and we don't need a summit meeting for that," Erekat said. "We need the teams to return to negotiations."
On Monday morning, Erekat told Israel Radio that Kerry had said to Palestinian officials that he would return for another visit in a week and half.
Meanwhile, a senior Israeli official told the New York Times that Netanyahu had offered a series of gestures toward the Palestinians to try to bring Abbas to the negotiating table.
"I think it's a good package; Netanyahu took serious steps,” the official was quoted as saying. “Now it depends on [Abbas].”
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that retired U.S. Marine General John R. Allen, who is a special adviser to Kerry and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, is working with Israeli officials to establish new ways for the U.S. to guarantee Israel’s security in the event it withdraws from Judea and Samaria as part of a future peace agreement with the Palestinians.
American officials were quoted as saying that Allen is looking to identify Israel’s potential security gaps and remedy what Netanyahu has said are currently outdated or incomplete assurances of cooperation and equipment from the U.S.
Also on Monday, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni commented on Israel's security collaboration with the U.S. saying, "The defense ties Israel has with the U.S. are critical. The U.S. bases its policies on coalitions that include Europe. We are working very closely with [Washington] on defense issues, but you have to understand that many in the U.S. do not see the link between security needs and another settlement."
Speaking at a conference in Eilat, Livni also addressed the public's protest over the government's decision to export natural gas, tying the economic issue with peace talks: "I saw the public protest over the gas exports and I can appreciate that people care, that they are thinking about the future, but we also have to ask what kind of country are we leaving to gas deposits to: A Jewish-democratic Israel? A binational state? An Apartheid state? We cannot focus only on the financial aspects and ignore the political and diplomatic ramifications."
She further warned that the European boycott of stalemate goods might escalate into a financial boycott of Israel: "Europe is concerned with ideological economy and that results in boycotts. Yes, it starts with the settlements but [Europe's] problem is with Israel, which they see as colonialist, so it might not stop with the settlements and it might one day include all of Israel.
"The majority of Israelis believe in the two-state solution, as long as the proper security arrangements are in place, and there is a group that wants [to sign a peace deal] but doesn't believe it is possible. The latter is held captive by a fringe group that thinks seizing another hill will prevent us from striking a peace deal. That is why the peace deal is such an integral part of both defense and the economy," Livni said.