John Kerry visits Israel in attempt to revive Middle East peace process

Immediate setback as Israel refuses to release map delineating a future Palestinian state

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference  in Istanbul. Photograph: Murad Sezer

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference in Istanbul. Photograph: Murad Sezer

 


US secretary of state John Kerry will hold talks with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem today, but efforts to revive the Middle East peace process received a setback when Israel refused to hand over a map delineating the contours of a future Palestinian state.

The Palestinians demanded such a map before agreeing to resume direct bilateral talks with Israel. “Any return to negotiations requires [Israeli prime minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s consent to the 1967 borders. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas wants to know what Netanyahu’s view is on the two-state solution and that is why we are demanding that he relay the maps to John Kerry,” said Nimr Hammad, an adviser to Mr Abbas.


Israeli rejection
However, Israeli officials rejected the idea, saying any maps at this juncture would become an opening position for the Palestinian negotiators.

During brief talks between the sides held in the Jordanian capital Amman in January, Israel hinted at a willingness to withdraw to the larger West Bank settlement blocs, but insisted on a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley, the eastern border of the West Bank.

The Palestinians are extremely pessimistic about the new American push to breathe new life into the peace process.

Mr Abbas, who met Mr Kerry last night, insists on preconditions for resuming peace talks: a moratorium on construction in Jewish settlements; the release by Israel of Palestinian prisoners; and an Israeli promise to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.

Israeli officials are also pessimistic over chances of a breakthrough during this week’s visit, but Mr Kerry has indicated a willingness to travel to the region every fortnight as he continues with efforts to narrow the gaps. He is concentrating on convincing the sides to take confidence-building steps.

On his previous visit, he secured a commitment from Mr Netanyahu to renew the transfer of money to the Palestinian Authority, while the Palestinians agreed to freeze their appeals to international organisations and to the international court of justice in The Hague.

Before arriving in Israel, Mr Kerry held talks with Turkish leaders in Istanbul and urged the speedy restoration of full diplomatic relations between Ankara and Jerusalem.

“We would like to see this relationship that is important to stability in the Middle East and critical to the peace process . . . get back on track in its full measure. This means promises of compensation be fulfilled, ambassadors be returned and full relations be embraced.”


Apology to Turks
Last month, during his visit to Israel, US president Barack Obama initiated a phone call from Mr Netanyahu to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which he apologised for the deaths of nine Turkish activists aboard the MV Mavi Marma ra , which was intercepted by Israeli commandos on its way to Gaza.

Compensation talks are due this week in Turkey but both sides have indicated the normalisation will take time. Israeli officials have played down suggestions that Ankara, which enjoys close ties with Hamas, can play a mediation role between Israel and the Palestinians.