US Secretary of State John Kerry paid a lightning visit to Jerusalem Sunday and, in addition to briefing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the Syrian situation, made clear he was not losing sight of the Israeli- Palestinian talks.
“The road ahead is not easy,” Kerry said at the outset of a 10-minute statement he delivered after holding a more than three-hour meeting with Netanyahu. “If it was easy, peace would have been achieved a long time ago. What is clearer than ever is that this is a road worth traveling.”
Kerry said his discussions with Netanyahu were a follow- up to a “very productive meeting” he had last week in London with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Since that meeting, there has been a significant drop in leaks about the talks appearing in the Arabic press. Israel protested those leaks to US special envoy Martin Indyk, arguing that they went against understandings by the sides before the talks began and were making the talks more difficult.
Kerry reiterated in his statement that he, Netanyahu “and all of the parties” have agreed not to discuss details of the negotiations “at any point of time.”
“We are convinced that the best way to work through the difficult choices that have to be made is to do so privately, with confidence that everyone will respect that process,” he said.
Netanyahu, relating to the talks and referring to Kerry as “John” – who in turn called him “my friend Bibi” – said, “We both know that this road is not an easy one, but we have embarked on this effort with you in order to succeed, to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all.”
Following Kerry’s statement, and in an apparent sign of the easy rapport between them, Netanyahu shook Kerry’s hand and said, “One hell of a sound bite.”
While Netanyahu and Kerry were meeting privately, their top advisers were holding talks in a nearby room.
The Israelis were represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading the negotiations with the Palestinians; Netanyahu’s envoy to the talks, Yitzhak Molcho; outgoing National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror and his replacement, Yossi Cohen; and ambassador-designate to the US Ron Dermer. US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, Indyk and senior State Department officials represented the US.
One Israeli official said that the Israeli-Palestinian talks were continuing even amid the Syrian crisis.
Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom on Sunday night questioned whether Abbas was a legitimate partner for peace.
“The world tells us to talk to Abbas, because he’s the best option. This is the Left’s craziest argument,” Shalom exclaimed at a Likud activists’ event he co-hosted in Tel Aviv.
“It means that the people who come after him are worse. If we give him land, then the next round of Palestinian leaders will shoot rockets at us.
“Obviously, we can’t do that,” he said.
Shalom also expressed doubt that an agreement could be reached within nine months, as Kerry proposed.
“I asked Tzipi Livni if she thinks its possible. I don’t think anyone thinks it is. There will be nine months of talks, and then we’ll be blamed for it not working,” Shalom said.
He said the government genuinely would like peace and that he hoped there would be a partial agreement, but that a full, long-term one would not be possible in so little time.
“We, as a national government led by Netanyahu, cannot give more than Olmert offered,” he concluded.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin called for the prime minister to bring any decisions about peace talks to the Likud central committee for a discussion and vote, saying it was “the place for ideological debates.”
Elkin took a clear stance on the issue, pointing out that “since the establishment of the State of Israel [in 1948], 2,500 Israelis were killed by Palestinian terrorists; [including] 1,500 killed in the 20 years since the Oslo Accords were signed.
“Talking about peace doesn’t always bring peace or security. It often brings more victims,” he said. “The other side won’t accept the most basic concept, that we’re here in Israel and we’re justified in being here.
“We used to say [Arabs] want to throw us into the sea, but we can’t even say that anymore, because there’s gas in the sea,” the deputy minister quipped.