US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke en route to Brunei Sunday with Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and since he left, his top aides have already met
with senior Israeli officials, a clear sign Kerry is not ditching his efforts to
restart Israeli-Palestinian talks despite his failure to achieve a breakthrough
over the weekend.
Frank Lowenstein, Kerry’s Middle East adviser, and
Jonathan Schwartz, a US State Department legal expert, met with National
Security Council head Yaakov Amidror and Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho on
Monday to continue looking for a formula that would enable the restarting of
Before departing on Sunday after an intensive round of shuttle
diplomacy, Kerry said he was leaving some staff here to continue working on a
formula to restart talks, and that he would return soon to finalize
CBS correspondent Margaret Brennan tweeted from Kerry’s plane that he
held a phone conversation en route to Brunei with Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s office would not confirm the conversation, it is likely Kerry filled
Netanyahu in on what he heard from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
during their meeting Sunday morning, the last of six meetings Kerry held in 72
hours with Netanyahu and Abbas.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu told visiting
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Monday that he was willing to enter the
“peace tent” with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and stay there
until “white smoke comes out.”
“We want peace,” Netanyahu said at the
outset of the meeting. “I want peace. We want to restart peace negotiations as
soon as possible, without any obstacles.”
Netanyahu said Kerry’s goal was
to get the sides into the same room and hash out an agreement to end the
conflict. These efforts, Netanyahu said, were worthy of “consistent and
constant” European support.
Israeli officials expressed concern to EU
foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during a visit to Israel two weeks ago
that EU comments and statements were giving the Palestinians the impression that even if they did not cooperate with
Kerry’s efforts, they would get diplomatic support from the EU.
believes that only if the US and Europe speak from the same page about the need
to restart negotiations immediately without preconditions – without providing
the Palestinians any “wiggle room” – will the Palestinians ultimately agree to
restart the talks.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, bristled at
the characterization in the media that Kerry had failed in his latest round of
shuttle diplomacy, telling an accountant’s conference in Eilat that she was
angered by “whining” headlines about Kerry’s “failure” that greeted her after an
“exhausting discussion with the prime minister and Kerry” that lasted into the
early hours of the morning.
“The fact is that he worked here day and
night for a limited time, and then needed to go,” Livni said of Kerry. “He left
two people here – and they also didn’t sleep at night – to continue the
Livni said Kerry deserved Israel’s appreciation because he
cares about what is happening here.
“There are other burning regions in
the world, and the secretary of state makes a supreme effort to be here,” she
said. “Our job is to help him.”
Without mentioning names, Livni said
there were some people who sighed in relief that Kerry left, “as if everything
is over. Friends, we are here with the problem, and will continue to make
efforts to solve it.”
In addition to briefing Letta on Kerry’s efforts,
Netanyahu also discussed with him Israel’s belief that the EU must place
Hezbollah on its list of terrorist organizations.
During his public
statement at the outset of the meeting, Netanyahu said Hezbollah – which he
called one of the “pre-eminent terrorist organizations of our time” – was
currently posing the most immediate security threat to Israel.
addition to aiding Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in the slaughter of
Syrians, it was also waging – along with Iran – terrorist campaigns in 30
countries around the world, including in Europe, he said.
Letta, whose country so far has been lukewarm on the issue of placing Hezbollah
on the EU terrorist list, that the time has come to do so, because if Hezbollah
is not a terrorist organization, “I don’t know what a terrorist organization
Netanyahu also discussed Iran with the new Italian premier, who was
making his first trip outside Europe since taking office in April. In his
opening remarks, Netanyahu said in reference to the recent election of Hassan
Rouhani as president, that Tehran must be judged by its actions, not its
As long as Iran continued to enrich uranium, did not ship the
enriched uranium it possesses out of the country, and continued its activities
at the Fordow nuclear installation, the pressure on Iran needed to be increased,
International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz,
meanwhile, is scheduled to depart Tuesday for meetings in Berlin and Paris with
the German and French foreign ministers to discuss Iran and convey a similar
While Netanyahu and Letta were meeting, Foreign Ministry workers
– who because of work sanctions are refusing to handle the visit – protested
outside the Prime Minister’s Office.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Yair
Lapid said on Monday his Yesh Atid party would continue pushing for a diplomatic
process with the Palestinians.
“No matter how many times [diplomatic
efforts] fail, it will eventually succeed,” he said at a party faction meeting
in the Knesset.
“We need to push and push the diplomatic issue forward. I
am conducting another channel with the Palestinian finance minister, because
peace can come from economic ties.”
Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich told
her faction that her party was not “waiting for Netanyahu around the corner” to
blame him for the failure of talks.
“We will continue giving our backing
to the prime minister in his attempts to reach an agreement,” she said. “We call
upon the prime minister to continue doing everything possible to enter
negotiations. We will keep our promise to give him a security
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.