Kerry to Netanyahu: Israeli-Palestinian peace not 'mission impossible'

PM: Israel doubts Palestinian commitment to peace; Kerry says framework deal will clarify issues for final status deal.

January 2, 2014 18:13
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and John Kerry.. (photo credit: GPO/Haim Zach)


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Declaring peace is not “a mission impossible,” US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived on Thursday and immediately met a downbeat Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who spoke of growing Israeli doubts about the Palestinian commitment to peace.

Netanyahu, who together with Kerry made a brief statement before their Jerusalem meeting, said Israel’s doubts stemmed from “unabated” Palestinian Authority-sponsored incitement, as well as President Mahmoud Abbas’s failure to condemn the recent uptick in terrorism.

“A few days ago in Ramallah, President Abbas embraced terrorists as heroes,” Netanyahu said. “To glorify the murders of innocent women and men as heroes is an outrage.

How can President Abbas say that he stands against terrorism when he embraces the perpetrators of terrorism and glorifies them as heroes?” One official said Netanyahu’s tough words at the very beginning of Kerry’s visit, his 10th round of shuttle diplomacy since March, were designed to send a signal to the world that Jerusalem had very strong grievances against the PA.

In the past, the official said, Netanyahu would speak hopefully in his joint appearances with Kerry, while Abbas would use his appearances alongside the secretary of state to recite a litany of complaints against Israel.

Netanyahu’s politeness and willingness to be optimistic, the official said, gave a misleading impression, as if only the Palestinians had serious complaints.

Kerry, who met for a number of hours Thursday evening with Netanyahu and other top officials, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, is scheduled to meet Abbas on Friday morning.

He is then expected to have a follow-up meeting with Netanyahu.

Other meetings with both leaders are expected before his scheduled departure on Monday for Amman. Kerry is also scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Friday.

Netanyahu said he was prepared to reach a “historic” peace agreement, but this necessitated a readiness by the other side as well.

“Peace means ending incitement; it means fighting terrorism and condemning terrorism; it means recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people; it means meeting Israel’s security needs; and it means being prepared to truly end the conflict once and for all,” he said.

Kerry acknowledged the difficulties Netanyahu mentioned, saying that the possibility of peace is “always challenged by day-to-day contradictions and day-to-day realities.”

At the same time, he said, “we are close to that time, if not at [the time]” when the leaders are going to have to make difficult decisions.

After five months of negotiations, “we have always known that achieving peace is a long and complicated process. It’s a tough road. But this is not mission impossible,” Kerry said.

The secretary of state, who a senior US official said was animated with a sense of urgency about this issue, shed some light on the parameters of the much-discussed “framework” that the United States is trying to push forward.

This framework, he said, would “provide the agreed guidelines for permanent-status negotiations.”

This, he added, “will take time and it will take compromise from both sides. But an agreed framework would be a significant breakthrough.”

The State Department official recently likened the framework agreement to Kerry bringing the two leaders to the top of a hill and sharing with them a view of what peace will look like on the other side, in terms of the core issues to be resolved. Once that was done, he said, “it will become easier to finalize the details.”

Kerry said such a framework would address all the core issues – borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual recognition and an end to all claims – so the sides know “where they are going.”

He said his role was not to impose US ideas, but rather to facilitate the parties in their own efforts at trying to bridge the gaps on those issues.

The secretary of state praised Netanyahu for having the “courage” to go through with the recent release of Palestinian security prisoners, saying he knew how difficult that decision was.

In the next breath, he praised Abbas for staying engaged with Israel, even though he was facing domestic pressure to break away from the talks.

Kerry, who served as a lieutenant in the US Navy during the Vietnam War, said his recent visit there showed him “the “power of reconciliation.”

The transformation of US-Vietnam relations was proof, he said, “that as painful as the past can be, through hard work and diplomacy history’s adversaries can actually become partners, and history’s challenges can become an opportunity for a new age.”

In a related development, Netanyahu is expected to meet on Friday with Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Barrasso of Wyoming.

The senators arrived on Thursday from Afghanistan, and are also scheduled to meet President Shimon Peres on Saturday night.

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