Declaring peace is not “a mission impossible,” US Secretary of State John Kerry
arrived on Thursday and immediately met a downbeat Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu who spoke of growing Israeli doubts about the Palestinian commitment
Netanyahu, who together with Kerry made a brief statement
before their Jerusalem meeting, said Israel’s doubts stemmed from “unabated”
Palestinian Authority-sponsored incitement, as well as President Mahmoud Abbas’s
failure to condemn the recent uptick in terrorism.
“A few days ago in
Ramallah, President Abbas embraced terrorists as heroes,” Netanyahu said. “To
glorify the murders of innocent women and men as heroes is an
How can President Abbas say that he stands against terrorism
when he embraces the perpetrators of terrorism and glorifies them as heroes?”
One official said Netanyahu’s tough words at the very beginning of Kerry’s
visit, his 10th round of shuttle diplomacy since March, were designed to send a
signal to the world that Jerusalem had very strong grievances against the
In the past, the official said, Netanyahu would speak hopefully in
his joint appearances with Kerry, while Abbas would use his appearances
alongside the secretary of state to recite a litany of complaints against
Netanyahu’s politeness and willingness to be optimistic, the
official said, gave a misleading impression, as if only the Palestinians had serious complaints.
Kerry, who met for a number of
hours Thursday evening with Netanyahu and other top officials, including Defense
Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, is scheduled to meet
Abbas on Friday morning.
He is then expected to have a follow-up meeting
Other meetings with both leaders are expected before his
scheduled departure on Monday for Amman. Kerry is also scheduled to meet with
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Friday.
Netanyahu said he was
prepared to reach a “historic” peace agreement, but this necessitated a
readiness by the other side as well.
“Peace means ending incitement; it
means fighting terrorism and condemning terrorism; it means recognizing Israel
as the nation-state of the Jewish people; it means meeting Israel’s security
needs; and it means being prepared to truly end the conflict once and for all,”
Kerry acknowledged the difficulties Netanyahu mentioned, saying
that the possibility of peace is “always challenged by day-to-day contradictions
and day-to-day realities.”
At the same time, he said, “we are close to
that time, if not at [the time]” when the leaders are going to have to make
After five months of negotiations, “we have always
known that achieving peace is a long and complicated process. It’s a tough road.
But this is not mission impossible,” Kerry said.
The secretary of state,
who a senior US official said was animated with a sense of urgency about this
issue, shed some light on the parameters of the much-discussed “framework” that
the United States is trying to push forward.
This framework, he said,
would “provide the agreed guidelines for permanent-status
This, he added, “will take time and it will take
compromise from both sides. But an agreed framework would be a significant
The State Department official recently likened the
framework agreement to Kerry bringing the two leaders to the top of a hill and
sharing with them a view of what peace will look like on the other side, in
terms of the core issues to be resolved. Once that was done, he said, “it will
become easier to finalize the details.”
Kerry said such a framework would
address all the core issues – borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual
recognition and an end to all claims – so the sides know “where they are
He said his role was not to impose US ideas, but rather to
facilitate the parties in their own efforts at trying to bridge the gaps on
The secretary of state praised Netanyahu for having the
“courage” to go through with the recent release of Palestinian security
prisoners, saying he knew how difficult that decision was.
In the next
breath, he praised Abbas for staying engaged with Israel, even though he was
facing domestic pressure to break away from the talks.
Kerry, who served
as a lieutenant in the US Navy during the Vietnam War, said his recent visit
there showed him “the “power of reconciliation.”
The transformation of
US-Vietnam relations was proof, he said, “that as painful as the past can be,
through hard work and diplomacy history’s adversaries can actually become
partners, and history’s challenges can become an opportunity for a new
In a related development, Netanyahu is expected to meet on Friday
with Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South
Carolina and John Barrasso of Wyoming.
The senators arrived on Thursday
from Afghanistan, and are also scheduled to meet President Shimon Peres on