Kerry: Israelis, Palestinians nearing crunch time

US Secretary of State meets with Netanyahu, Abbas in separate meetings; urges parties to move to direct talks.

John kerry open arms 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
John kerry open arms 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The time has come for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take difficult steps in pursuit of peace, US Secretary of State John Kerry said as he spoke with reporters in Ben-Gurion Airport Friday at the end of a two-day visit.
“We are reaching the time where the leaders need to make hard decisions,” said Kerry, who has held an intense round of talks over the last two months in hopes of rekindling the frozen peace process.
Kerry has visited Israel and the Palestinian territories three times since March, and has held additional meetings with local and regional politicians in the United States and Europe.
President Shimon Peres struck a note of optimism for Kerry’s efforts when he told British Foreign Minister William Hague that “I see that quietly things are moving.”
But Kerry’s statements at the airport seemed more skeptical. He said progress was dependent on the choices Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas must now make.
Kerry explained that he would speak more about the issue at the World Economic Forum in Jordan on Sunday, but that after that he would move onto other matters.
“I have been here a number of times, both sides know what the choices are, both sides know what is needed to move forward, and it time for the governments to make their decisions,” Kerry said.
“I have made clear in my discussions that the parties should be focused on making progress toward the direct negotiations,” Kerry said.
“Ultimately, ending this conflict will take leadership on both sides,” he said.
Kerry reiterated the American definition of the two-state solution, based on the pre-1967 line, which includes land-swaps to take into account facts on the ground.
In the end, he said, it is the Israelis and Palestinians who will define the terms of the final status agreement.
But there is only one way to get there and that is through direct negotiations, he said, adding that he has been very clear about the need for progress on this score.
It is a mistake, he said, to leave the conflict unresolved or to assume that the status quo is sustainable.
“Each side needs to work to build trust and each side needs to refrain from any provocative theatrics or actions that take us backwards,” he said.
“The longer it takes to bring about a peaceful end to the conflict, the more difficult it will be to do so,” he said.
“It is only through direct negotiators that the Israelis and the Palestinians can address the permanent status issues,” Kerry said.
He urged Israel to voluntarily halt settlement activity, but added that the demand for such a freeze as a precondition to direct talks was not helpful.
“We are trying to get to talks without preconditions,” said Kerry. “We do not want to get stuck in a place where we are arguing about a particular substantive issue that is part of a final settlement, and that argument takes you so long, that you never get to the negotiations that bring about the final settlement,” Kerry said.
“Our hope is that everyone will stay focused on the prize, focused on the goal, that is to negotiate in full faith on the broad basis that ends the anxiety and tension over some of these issues because you have actually solved them by reaching a settlement on the broader components of the conflict itself,” Kerry said.
On Thursday, Kerry held a twohour meeting with Netanyahu. They were joined by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, special envoy Yitzhak Molho and military secretary Eyal Zamir.
On Friday morning, Kerry invited Netanyahu to join him for breakfast at his Jerusalem hotel. They were joined by Molho and National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror.
The US secretary of state also met with Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday, and is likely to meet with him again on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Jordan.
Kerry said that the meetings he held with Israeli and Palestinian leaders were productive. It was clear to him, he said, that both the Israeli and Palestinian people wanted peace.
An Israeli official said that the talks between Kerry and Netanyahu were useful and productive.
“The prime minister has welcomed his efforts to try and bring about the resumption of direct talks,” the official said.
“We are ready and we remain ready to start those peace talks,” the official said.
Palestinians, however, continued to insist on Thursday that they would not talk with Israel until it had halted West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem.
Israel has refused to cede to that request, insisting that talks should be held without preconditions.
Talks have been largely frozen since December 2008.