Saudi Arabia and the Arab League will be involved in building support for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, US Secretary of State John Kerry said before leaving Riyadh and returning to Jerusalem Sunday night.
“Today his majesty was not just encouraging, but supported our efforts in the hopes that we can be successful in the days ahead," Kerry said of his meeting with Saudi King Abdullah.
After two-and-a-half days of intensive talks in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry flew Sunday morning to Jordan and then Saudi Arabia to drum up support for his efforts.
In Jordan he held talks with King Abudllah II and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. He is scheduled to fly back to Washington Monday morning from Tel Aviv, and it was not immediately clear whether he would hold one more meeting with Netanyahu – which would be his fourth since arriving Thursday – before taking off.
Before leaving for Jordan and Saudi Arabia Sunday morning, Kerry described his separate talks with Netanyahu and Abbas as "very positive, but I have to say very serious, very intensive conversations. These issues are not easy."
Kerry said that one of the reasons for his trip to Saudi Arabia was that the Saudi-led Arab League initiative from 2002 held out the possibility that "if the parties could arrive at a peaceful resolution, you could instantaneously have peace between the 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations, all of whom have said they will recognize Israel if peace is achieved."
Kerry, who has repeatedly urged for more focus to be placed on the benefits of peace, and not only on the risks, advised imagining how recognition by the Arab League countries "changes the dynamics of travel, of business, of education, of opportunity in this region, of stability. Imagine what peace could mean for trade and tourism, what it could mean for developing technology and talent, for job opportunities for the younger generation, for generations in all of these countries."
Kerry said the stakes of the negotiations "are much bigger than just Israel and Palestine."
"This is a conflict that is felt around the world," he said. "It is a conflict that has implications with every leader I have met anywhere in the world as Secretary of State or a senator. They all ask about the conflict of the Middle East and whether or not it can be resolved."
True to from, Kerry gave no real details of what was going on in the negotiations, beyond saying that all the core issues were being discussed. He defined those issues as territory, security, refugees, recognition, Jerusalem and "how you resolve all claims and the conflict itself."
"In the end, all of these different core issues actually fit together like a mosaic. It’s a puzzle, and you can’t separate out one piece or another," he said. He added that "the path is becoming clearer, the puzzle is becoming more defined, and it is becoming much more apparent to everybody what the remaining tough choices are and what the options are with respect to those choices."
Kerry said that following his departure on Monday, discussion at staff level will continue. "But as our teams flesh out some of the concepts that are on the table, as necessary, I will return," he pledged.
Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official in Ramallah on Sunday questioned Kerry’s assertion that progress has been made.
“Kerry is revolving in a vicious cycle,” said Azzam al-Ahmed, member of the Fatah Central Committee. “If he continues to propose to the Palestinian side what he’s proposing, he won’t achieve anything.”
Al-Ahmed told the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad that he does not believe that Kerry made any progress during his last visit to the region.
Al-Ahmed revealed that Kerry proposed to the Palestinians the idea of a “greater Jerusalem” as a capital for two states.
According to the Fatah official, Kerry's proposal does not consider east Jerusalem as part of the "territories occupied in 1967."
Al-Ahmed said that this proposal would destroy the American efforts to achieve peace.
He said that the Palestinians rejected the idea because it was not clear whether Jerusalem’s borders would extend all the way to the Dead Sea or stop at Abu Dis (on the eastern outskirts of the city).
Al-Ahmed reiterated the PA’s opposition to any Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley or any other part of Palestinian territories.
However, he said that the Palestinians have no objections to the presence of an international force or a joint American-Jordanian force in the Jordan Valley.
“Kerry started talking about a framework agreement during his last three visits to the region,” al-Ahmed said. “He proposed a security plan which the Palestinian side considered a step back from previous agreements with the US and former prime minister Ehud Olmert.”
He claimed that the US “retraction” encourages Israel to ignore international legitimacy and previous understandings between Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Al-Ahmed also reiterated the PA’s opposition to extending the peace talks beyond the nine-month period set by Kerry and which expires in April 2014. He denied the existence of a secret channel for talks between Israel and the Palestinians.