Kerry meets PM three times, Abbas twice in whirlwind visit

It should become clear on Sunday morning whether Kerry's efforts succeeded in paving the way for a renewal of negotiations.

June 30, 2013 01:23
3 minute read.
US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

kerry meeting with netanyahu both smiling 370. (photo credit: GPO/Amos Ben Gershom)

US Secretary of State John Kerry held his third meeting in 48 hours on Saturday evening with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, capping an intense round of shuttle diplomacy that included two meetings with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman.

While neither the Israelis, Palestinians nor Americans released any substantive information about the talks, it should become clear on Sunday morning before Kerry is scheduled to leave for Brunei for a Southeast Asia security conference whether his efforts succeeded in paving the way for a renewal of negotiations.

It was not immediately clear whether Kerry would meet again with Abbas, following his Saturday night discussion with Netanyahu.

He may convene a press conference before departing to give an update on the situation.

A Saturday afternoon press conference in Jordan was canceled when he decided to return to Jerusalem after meeting a second time with Abbas.

While there were reports in the Jordanian media on Saturday that Kerry succeeded in securing agreements for an Israel-Palestinian- American-Jordanian summit later in the week in Jordan, Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the security cabinet, denied that such a meeting was imminent.

“To the best of my understanding, Abu Mazen [Abbas] is still demanding the same preconditions, which we have no intention of meeting,” Erdan said.

Abbas has consistently demanded a complete cessation of Jewish construction in east Jerusalem and in the settlements, a release of Palestinian prisoners incarcerated before the Oslo Accords, and an Israeli agreement to use the pre- 1967 lines as the baseline of the talks.

“The most significant thing for us is ensuring the security interests of Israeli citizens. We will not agree to demands as conditions for starting negotiations,” Erdan said on Channel 2’s Meet the Press. “As a member of the security cabinet, I will vote against any demand to pay a price to begin the negotiations.”

Asked to characterize whether the sides were close to a breakthrough, one Israeli official said only that “very serious work is under way.”

The Chinese press agency Xinhua on Saturday quoted a Palestinian official saying that Abbas told Kerry on Friday that the Israeli goodwill gestures were not enough to resume negotiations.

According to the official, Abbas stood firm on his demand that Israel must freeze all construction beyond the Green Line and agree to a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines.

“What Israel offers in terms of releasing a limited number of prisoners and increasing the Palestinian National Authority influence in the West Bank is not enough for President Abbas to accept returning to the negotiating table,” Xinhua quoted the official as saying.

Kerry’s efforts began on Thursday night with a dinner meeting with Netanyahu at Jerusalem’s David Citadel hotel that began at 8:30 and ended at 1:30 a.m. The two men first met alone, and then were joined by their wider teams. Netanyahu was joined by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians; Yitzhak Molcho, his envoy on the Palestinian issue; Yaakov Amidror, head of the National Security Council; and military secretary Eyal Zamir.

On Friday, Kerry met for two hours with Abbas in Amman, and then returned for a second meeting with Netanyahu that went some two hours. He then had Shabbat dinner with President Shimon Peres.

On Saturday, the secretary of state canceled a planned visit to Abu Dhabi and flew back to Amman for another meeting with Abbas, after which he returned by helicopter to Jerusalem for Saturday night’s meeting with Netanyahu.

Kerry – now on his fifth visit since March – has said he would not have returned to the region so soon if he did not believe he could make progress. He has been guarded about his plans to break the stalemate, while warning time was running out.

He is keen to clinch a deal to resume talks before the United Nations General Assembly, which has already granted the Palestinians the status of a non-member state, convenes in September.

With the Middle East engulfed in turmoil from protests in Egypt to the Syrian civil war, which is spilling into neighboring countries, Kerry has said it is time for “hard decisions” by Israel and the Palestinians.

“It is urgent because time is the enemy of a peace process,” he said in Kuwait last week. “The passage of time allows a vacuum to be filled by people who don’t want things to happen.”

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