After Kerry leaves, aides continue efforts

Netanyahu to Italian PM: I’m ready to sit in "peace tent" with Abbas until "white smoke comes out."

July 2, 2013 16:06
Netanyahu shakes hands with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

bibi shakes hand with italian pm 370. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke en route to Brunei Sunday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and since he left, his top aides have already met with senior Israeli officials, a clear sign Kerry is not ditching his efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks despite his failure to achieve a breakthrough over the weekend.

Frank Lowenstein, Kerry’s Middle East adviser, and Jonathan Schwartz, a US State Department legal expert, met with National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror and Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho on Monday to continue looking for a formula that would enable the restarting of talks.

Before departing on Sunday after an intensive round of shuttle diplomacy, Kerry said he was leaving some staff here to continue working on a formula to restart talks, and that he would return soon to finalize it.

CBS correspondent Margaret Brennan tweeted from Kerry’s plane that he held a phone conversation en route to Brunei with Netanyahu.

While Netanyahu’s office would not confirm the conversation, it is likely Kerry filled Netanyahu in on what he heard from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting Sunday morning, the last of six meetings Kerry held in 72 hours with Netanyahu and Abbas.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu told visiting Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Monday that he was willing to enter the “peace tent” with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and stay there until “white smoke comes out.”

“We want peace,” Netanyahu said at the outset of the meeting. “I want peace. We want to restart peace negotiations as soon as possible, without any obstacles.”

Netanyahu said Kerry’s goal was to get the sides into the same room and hash out an agreement to end the conflict. These efforts, Netanyahu said, were worthy of “consistent and constant” European support.

Israeli officials expressed concern to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during a visit to Israel two weeks ago that EU comments and statements were giving the Palestinians the impression that even if they did not cooperate with Kerry’s efforts, they would get diplomatic support from the EU.

Israel believes that only if the US and Europe speak from the same page about the need to restart negotiations immediately without preconditions – without providing the Palestinians any “wiggle room” – will the Palestinians ultimately agree to restart the talks.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, bristled at the characterization in the media that Kerry had failed in his latest round of shuttle diplomacy, telling an accountant’s conference in Eilat that she was angered by “whining” headlines about Kerry’s “failure” that greeted her after an “exhausting discussion with the prime minister and Kerry” that lasted into the early hours of the morning.

“The fact is that he worked here day and night for a limited time, and then needed to go,” Livni said of Kerry. “He left two people here – and they also didn’t sleep at night – to continue the efforts.”

Livni said Kerry deserved Israel’s appreciation because he cares about what is happening here.

“There are other burning regions in the world, and the secretary of state makes a supreme effort to be here,” she said. “Our job is to help him.”

Without mentioning names, Livni said there were some people who sighed in relief that Kerry left, “as if everything is over. Friends, we are here with the problem, and will continue to make efforts to solve it.”

In addition to briefing Letta on Kerry’s efforts, Netanyahu also discussed with him Israel’s belief that the EU must place Hezbollah on its list of terrorist organizations.

During his public statement at the outset of the meeting, Netanyahu said Hezbollah – which he called one of the “pre-eminent terrorist organizations of our time” – was currently posing the most immediate security threat to Israel.

In addition to aiding Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in the slaughter of Syrians, it was also waging – along with Iran – terrorist campaigns in 30 countries around the world, including in Europe, he said.

Netanyahu told Letta, whose country so far has been lukewarm on the issue of placing Hezbollah on the EU terrorist list, that the time has come to do so, because if Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization, “I don’t know what a terrorist organization is.”

Netanyahu also discussed Iran with the new Italian premier, who was making his first trip outside Europe since taking office in April. In his opening remarks, Netanyahu said in reference to the recent election of Hassan Rouhani as president, that Tehran must be judged by its actions, not its words.

As long as Iran continued to enrich uranium, did not ship the enriched uranium it possesses out of the country, and continued its activities at the Fordow nuclear installation, the pressure on Iran needed to be increased, Netanyahu argued.

International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz, meanwhile, is scheduled to depart Tuesday for meetings in Berlin and Paris with the German and French foreign ministers to discuss Iran and convey a similar message.

While Netanyahu and Letta were meeting, Foreign Ministry workers – who because of work sanctions are refusing to handle the visit – protested outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said on Monday his Yesh Atid party would continue pushing for a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

“No matter how many times [diplomatic efforts] fail, it will eventually succeed,” he said at a party faction meeting in the Knesset.

“We need to push and push the diplomatic issue forward. I am conducting another channel with the Palestinian finance minister, because peace can come from economic ties.”

Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich told her faction that her party was not “waiting for Netanyahu around the corner” to blame him for the failure of talks.

“We will continue giving our backing to the prime minister in his attempts to reach an agreement,” she said. “We call upon the prime minister to continue doing everything possible to enter negotiations. We will keep our promise to give him a security net.”

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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