US Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Israel from Turkey late Sunday afternoon, his second visit in two weeks, and went directly to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas reiterated his stance regarding the resumption of peace talks with Israel, but added a new demand: that Israel hand control over parts of Area C in the West Bank to his authority.
During a meeting in Ramallah with Kerry, Abbas, according to the Bethlehembased Ma’an news agency, also demanded that Israel promise to refrain from withholding Palestinians’ tax revenues in the future, as well as the immediate release of Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike in Israeli jails.
Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Area C of the West Bank is under Israel’s exclusive control.
“The issue of the prisoners is now at the top of our list of priorities,” a PA official said. “Without the release of a significant number of prisoners, especially those who are on hunger strike and facing death at any moment, there can be no talk about resuming the peace process.”
During the meeting, Abbas also repeated his earlier demand that Israel halt construction in all settlements and east Jerusalem and release dozens of Palestinians imprisoned prior to the signing of the Oslo Accords.
“President Abbas reiterated his refusal to resume peace talks with Israel unless the Israeli government stopped its policy of settlement construction,” the official told The Jerusalem Post. “We are also demanding that Israel hand over to the Palestinian Authority parts of Area C in the West Bank.”
The State Department said the goal of Kerry’s current round of meetings is “to follow up on last month’s discussions as we continue to assess how best we can support the parties in getting back to the table and in having dialogue leading to peace.”
Asked if Kerry was carrying new ideas for reviving the peace process, another PA official said: “So far we haven’t seen anything new.
The Americans know that the ball is in the Israeli court. Therefore the pressure should be on the Israeli government, and not the Palestinian leadership.”
On Monday morning, Kerry is scheduled to attend Holocaust Remembrance Day memorial services at Yad Vashem before beginning a day of meetings.
Kerry is scheduled to meet with Palestinian officials at the US consulate in Jerusalem, as well as with the American Consul-General Michael Ratney. In the late afternoon, he is due to meet with President Shimon Peres.
Kerry is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday morning for two hours. Two weeks ago they met for some four hours, along with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is charged with heading Israel’s negotiating team with the Palestinians.
The US secretary of state will leave for London immediately after his meeting with Netanyahu for a meeting of G8 foreign ministers, and then go on to South Korea, China and Japan.
On Tuesday Netanyahu is also scheduled to meet Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, currently on a three-day visit to Israel.
Baird was in attendance at the opening ceremony of memorial services at Yad Vashem on Sunday evening.