Kerry urges limits to settlement building on visit to Israel
PM Binyamin Netanyahu says he doubts Palestinian commitment to peace deal
US secretary of state John Kerry meets young Palestinians who presented him with a gift box at Manger Square in Bethlehem yesterday. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters
US secretary of state John Kerry says a comprehensive peace deal can still be reached within the nine-month deadline set by Washington, despite being told by Israeli and Palestinian leaders that the other side was torpedoing peace efforts.
Israeli and Palestinian representatives held their 17th meeting on Tuesday night, as Mr Kerry landed in Israel, but, according to Palestinian officials, the talks ended in a shouting match with the Palestinians saying Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank was destroying the chance of a diplomatic breakthrough.
Following discussion with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Mr Kerry said it would be better if settlement building was “limited as much as possible in an effort to help create a climate for these talks to be able to proceed effectively. “Let me emphasise at this point the position of the United States of America on the settlements is that we consider them... to be illegitimate.” He dismissed Israeli suggestions there had been an understanding with the Palestinians about settlement expansion and said: “I want to make it extremely clear that at no time did the Palestinians in any way agree as a matter of going back to the talks, that they somehow condone or accept the settlements.” He also announced $75 million in aid to create Palestinian jobs.
Bilateral negotiations resumed in July and Mr Kerry set an ambitious nine-month target for the sides to reach a historic deal on a two-state solution. Earlier, in Jerusalem, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he doubted the Palestinian commitment to reaching a peace agreement.
“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. “I hope that your visit will help steer them back to a place where we could achieve the historical peace that we seek and that our people deserve.”