Kerry in Israel to advance peace talks with Palestinians
JERUSALEM – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel Tuesday afternoon in a bid to advance the peace talks between the Jewish country and the Palestinians.
In his eighth visit to the region since taking office, the U.S. top diplomat will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday.
His incessant efforts earlier this year brought the two parties back to negotiation in late July after a three-year halt.
“I believe there is an ability to move (the peace talks) forward, but we have to remain calm and dedicated and committed to a quiet process by which difficult decisions can be discussed,” Kerry said in Cairo on Sunday.
Since the negotiations resumed, fifteen meetings have been held between the two sides, precluding a short meeting held on Tuesday afternoon and another meeting planned for Wednesday.
The meetings are not open to media and no official updates were given on their status. Some leaks from the Palestinian side said that the negotiations had hit a deadlock. Several Palestinian negotiators even threatened to resign last week.
The meetings have thus far focused on security arrangements, specifically those regarding the borders with Jordan, part of which concerns the West Bank. Israel demands that its security forces be deployed there, which the Palestinians reject.
According to a report by the Ma’ariv daily, Netanyahu intends to build a security barrier along the Jordan Valley Border and ordered initial feasibility assessment. There is also disagreement over Israel’s reported insistence on having the future Palestinian state demilitarized.
“Netanyahu considers the wall to be a message to the Palestinian side, which opposes the presence of Israel on the banks of the Jordan River,” the daily said, adding that Israel does not intend to evacuate the area under any future agreement.
Another conflict arose due to Israel’s recent announcement of plans to build thousands of housing units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The Palestinians seek to establish an independent state, part of which is to be built on lands occupied by the settlements.
The borders of the future Palestinian state are a central topic in the talks. The issue involves land swaps, with Israel retaining control of major settlements deemed by most Israelis as part of their country in exchange for other territories.
The recent announcement of new housing units drew harsh criticism from the United States and the European Union besides the Palestinians themselves.
“There is no doubt that the settlements have disturbed people’s perceptions of whether or not people are serious and moving in the right direction,” Kerry himself said in Egypt on Sunday.
While Israel’s chief negotiator, dovish Tzipi Livni, said Israel should not built in the settlements “to the point of no return” on Monday, Netanyahu defended the decision.
The Prime Minister said the construction in the settlements is not breaching any agreements, since Israel only agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners, 26 of them released Oct. 29.
On Monday, left-wing senior parliament member Zehava Galon revealed that the United States will introduce a blueprint to a permanent agreement in January.
According to Galon, who said she got the information from U.S. officials, the blueprint will include solutions to each of the core issues, including the border demarcation and land swaps, similar to a plan offered by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Kerry’s meetings with Netanyahu will also revolve around Iran, which recently began ice-breaking communication with the West in attempt to resolve the disputes on its nuclear program.
While Netanyahu is campaigning worldwide not to ease the sanctions on Iran, calling it a threat to Israel, Kerry will seek a more appeasing approach and try to connect the Iranian issue with the Palestinian peace talks, analysts say.
The United States has been trying to tie the two issues together as it deems an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will expand the coalition against Iran and improve Israel’s international standing.