Kerry steers Israel towards peace talks

US secretary of state has ‘productive, in-depth and wide-ranging’ discussion with Israeli prime minister

US secretary of state John Kerry gestures as he meets Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem yesterday. After seeing Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan, Kerry travelled to Jerusalem for evening talks with Netanyahu – a meeting that had been originally expected today. Photograph: Reuters/Jacquelyn Martin

US secretary of state John Kerry gestures as he meets Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem yesterday. After seeing Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan, Kerry travelled to Jerusalem for evening talks with Netanyahu – a meeting that had been originally expected today. Photograph: Reuters/Jacquelyn Martin

Sat, Jun 29, 2013, 01:00


US secretary of state John Kerry is to meet Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu tonight for the third time in consecutive days as he pushes his shuttle diplomacy, aimed at restarting the Middle East peace talks, into top gear.

In between the discussions in Jerusalem he travelled overland to the Jordanian capital Amman for talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

US officials are tight-lipped on the details of the discussions and would not confirm media reports that top-level meetings are planned between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, some of which may be attended by Mr Kerry, possibly as early as next week in Jordan.

Mr Kerry is reportedly putting all his weight behind the efforts to pressure the sides into launching the meetings, which are meant to rebuild trust as a step to restarting direct bilateral negotiations.

This is Mr Kerry’s fifth visit to the region since taking office in February.

He is trying to finalise the details of a deal that will coax both sides back to the negotiating table and prevent the Palestinians pursuing further unilateral steps towards statehood recognition when the United Nations general assembly convenes in New York in September.

Both Israel and the Palestinians want to avoid being seen as blocking progress, but mutual distrust runs as deep as ever.

The state department released a statement following Thursday night’s four-hour meeting in Jerusalem, saying Mr Kerry and Mr Netanyahu had a “productive, in-depth and wide-ranging conversation” and that Mr Kerry reiterated his commitment to working with all parties to achieve a two-state solution.

The prime minister’s office refused to confirm reports Israel is considering releasing veteran Palestinian prisoners or extending other goodwill gestures to the Palestinians. However, they indicated that such moves would only come after the resumption of peace talks.

Mr Abbas said he believed Mr Kerry could present a formula acceptable to both sides, but senior Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo played down prospects of a diplomatic breakthrough. “It is Israel that is standing in the way of the negotiations. We will not resume the negotiations unless our terms are met.”

The Palestinians have linked resumption of peace talks to an Israeli freeze on West Bank settlement construction and a commitment that a peace deal will be based on the 1967 West Bank borders with land swaps.

Settlement building
Israel appears to have slowed down settlement building over recent months, but Mr Netanyahu has ruled out making a policy statement to this effect, worried about losing the backing of right-wing coalition partners.

Earlier this week Israel granted permission for the construction of another 69 homes in the southern Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har Homa, built over the 1967 green line border, and considered by the Palestinians as settlement construction.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the planned building.