Kerry and Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem, Dec 5, 2013 Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPOUS Secretary of State John Kerry arrived Wednesday evening for another round of talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah, with Palestinian officials again voicing deep pessimism about any breakthrough in peace talks, and Israeli officials more keen on talking to Kerry about Iran than about the Palestinians.
Kerry met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday morning. He was expected to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah later in the day. A second meeting with Netanyahu on Thursday evening is possible if deemed necessary. This has been the pattern of Kerry’s meetings during previous visits. He is expected to fly back to the US on Friday.“The number one security challenge we face is Iran,” one Israeli government official said, explaining why Iran had in recent weeks totally eclipsed the Palestinian issue in Jerusalem. He added that it did not have to come at the expense of talks with the Palestinians, but would necessitate the Palestinians coming to the table with a commitment to making the negotiations work – something he charged had not yet been the case.Palestinian officials, meanwhile, repeated charges Wednesday that the US was biased in favor of Israel and called for the involvement of other international parties in the peace process.PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi told foreign diplomats on Wednesday that “US bias in favor of Israel does not serve peace.”Ashrawi also criticized the US for maintaining a “monopoly” over the peace process and putting pressure on the PA leadership “while Israel does not abide by international law and signed agreements.”She called for convening another Geneva conference to “end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital on the 1967 borders.”She was referring to the recent Geneva agreement between Iran and the six big powers.Ashrawi warned that failure to take practical measures to safeguard the two-state solution would lead only to the one-state option – a reality, she added, that would “plunge the entire region into violence.”Another top PLO official, Tayseer Khaled, said no progress had been achieved so far during peace talks with Israel. The US had not met any of the promises it made to Abbas, he charged.Khaled, too, criticized the US for failing to exert pressure on Israel, especially regarding home demolitions. He also expressed fear that Kerry would strike a deal with Netanyahu whereby Israel softens its criticism of the Geneva accord with Iran.“It’s time to say enough is enough to Kerry,” he told the Palestine News Network. “US bias in favor of Israel has damaged the peace process.”Israeli officials, who said they knew nothing about a Haaretz report that Kerry would present Netanyahu with a plan for security arrangements to be put in place following an agreement, slammed the Palestinians for not coming to the table in good faith. Defense issues, specifically whether Israel would have a security presence along the Jordan River after an agreement, are believed to be a major stumbling block.“It is easy for the Palestinians to make demands of Israel; they do that without thinking,” one official said. “But what are they willing to do for peace? Are they willing to engage seriously Israel’s legitimate security concerns?” The official dismissed Palestinian claims that the talks were on the brink of collapse, saying this was part of their policy of brinkmanship, and that every time Kerry arrives there are always Palestinian statements about the talks being in trouble.
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