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Kerry: US plan allows for Israeli security, Palestinian sovereignty
By TOVAH LAZAROFF AND KHALED ABU TOAMEH
15/12/2013
US secretary of state meets with PM in J'lem to discuss advancing peace process; says Palestinian prisoner release set for Dec. 29.
 
Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post

The US is preparing a plan that provides for Israeli security and Palestinian sovereignty, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday even as Palestinians continued to reject some of Israel’s basic security demands, such as an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley.

Kerry told a reporter in Tel Aviv that the third of four promised releases of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails will take place on December 29.

“We are working on an approach that both guarantees Israel’s security and fully respects Palestinian sovereignty,” Kerry said.

He flew out of Ben-Gurion Airport on Friday for Asia, after a brief one-day visit. He met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Friday morning and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday night.

On Thursday night, John Allen, a former four-star Marine Corps general, presented Abbas with security plans, Kerry said.

Nabil Abu Rudaineh, Abbas’s spokesman, said the Palestinians “won’t accept any Israeli presence on our land.”

Palestinian officials added that the latest meeting did not lead to any breakthrough.

But Kerry said he remained optimistic that a final-status agreement could be reached by April and rejected the possibility of an interim deal.



“Our goal remains as it always has been – for the Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final-status agreement – not an interim agreement, a final-status agreement,” Kerry said. “And both parties remain committed to fulfilling their obligations to stay at the table and negotiate hard during the nine-month period that we set for that.”

As part of those talks, he said, all the core issues are on the table, including: borders; security; refugees; Jerusalem; mutual recognition; an end to the conflict; and an end to all claims by both sides.

“Security is obviously a key issue,” Kerry said. “So we have a major interest in being able to make certain that both Palestinians and Israelis, when they reach final status, have the ability to be able to deal with their mutual security interests and their independent security interests.”

The US is committed to both Israeli and Palestinian security, Kerry said.

“Everybody knows that we have had a long-time commitment to the security of Israel.

Our willingness and readiness to defend the State of Israel is ironclad,” Kerry said.

A final status agreement for a two-state solution is in Israel’s best security interest, Kerry added, saying both he and US President Barack Obama remained “hopeful and confident” that such a deal could be reached.

Kerry thanked both Netanyahu and Abbas for their commitment to the process. The Prime Minister’s Office said it had no comment on Netanyahu’s talk with Kerry, which lasted for four hours.

But the Palestinians said they were skeptical and pessimistic.

“The success of the talks requires big efforts,” said Abu Rudaineh.

There won’t be peace without the release of all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, he added.

As a gesture to allow for the nine-month negotiation process, Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian security prisoners in four separate batches during the talks. So far, there have been two releases.

“President Abbas rejected the idea of delaying the release of the third batch of Palestinian prisoners, slated for the end of December,” Abu Rudaineh said.

A PA official told AFP that Abbas rejected the American security ideas. The official said Abbas delivered a letter to Kerry informing him of his opposition to the ideas. In the letter Abbas reiterated his complete opposition to demands to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the official said.

The letter, according to the official, outlined the Palestinians’ opposition to any Israeli military presence on the border with Jordan. The official pointed out that the Palestinians were not opposed to the presence of a third party in the Jordan Valley.

Another PA official said no progress was achieved during the last Abbas-Kerry meeting.

The official stressed that talks between the Palestinians and Americans would continue to try to find an acceptable formula that would allow Kerry to bring forward his plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In a related development, the Bethlehem-based Ma’an news agency quoted “informed sources” as saying that Kerry is working toward holding a summit between Abbas and Netanyahu.

Kerry had planned a long meeting with Abbas in Ramallah, but had to cut it short when it became clear that the roads would soon become impassible due to snow. Kerry, according to a source, reportedly offered to take the wheel of the motorcade, saying that since he was from Boston, he was used to driving in this weather.

“We had a very interesting evening last night which unfortunately was a little bit cut short because of the road conditions and the need for us to be able to get back from Ramallah to Jerusalem,” he said. “So we did not have as long a session as I had hoped.

And we had, obviously, an enormous challenge in the weather.”

He mentioned the weather again before his meeting with Netanyahu that took place as a snow storm raged outside.

“Well, I’ve heard of making your guests welcome and feeling at home,” he joked. “This is about as far as I’ve ever seen anybody go, giving me a nice New England snow storm.”

Although the roads to Jerusalem were closed, a path to the airport was cleared for Kerry’s motorcade.

Ben Hartman contributed to this report.
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