State Dept. urges Kerry to present principles for talks

Unclear whether Kerry will arrive this week due to wife's unspecified illness; visit will be 6th since March.

john kerry looking thoughtful 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
john kerry looking thoughtful 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Leading voices inside the State Department are calling for US Secretary of State John Kerry to lay down a set of principles that Israel and the Palestinians would either have to accept or reject as a way of restarting the negotiations, diplomatic officials said Monday as Jerusalem geared up for another visit by Kerry to the region.
The visit, Kerry’s sixth since March, was initially to be held at the end of the week, but may now be postponed due to the illness of his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, who was rushed to a Boston hospital Sunday with an unspecified illness.
On Monday a source said her family believed Heinz Kerry, 74, might have suffered a seizure. Her condition was upgraded Monday from critical to fair. Kerry, her son and other family members were with her at the hospital in Boston.
It was not immediately clear whether the situation would delay his trip by a number of days or otherwise impact his travel plans.
Kerry left the region some 10 days ago after spending three grueling days in the region, shuttling between Amman, Jerusalem and Ramallah in efforts to get Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas back to talks.
He held six separate meetings with the two leaders, which extended over 20 hours. He left two staff members in the country to continue his efforts, and said before he left that he would return to try and tie up the deal.
Some in the State Department are concerned that Kerry is being dragged into blind alleys by the two sides, expending too much energy on detailed questions about how many Palestinian prisoners Israel would release before and during the talks, and exactly where a settlement freeze would be imposed.
According to this school of thought, these arguments could go on forever and simply wear Kerry down. Instead, Kerry should simply lay down a formula that would indicate that the talks were to begin with the baseline being the June 4, 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps, and a Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
This way, both the Palestinians and Israel would have to give the other something, and whatever side was not willing to do so would be pinned with the blame for the talks’ failure.
The Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, meanwhile, released a poll showing overwhelming skepticism by the Israel public of Kerry succeeding in his efforts.
According to the monthly “Peace Index” poll, while 64% percent of Jewish Israelis are in favor of negotiations, with 32% opposed, only 22% said that Kerry’s chances of succeeding in getting the talks off the ground were high.
Seventy-one percent said that his chances of success were low. Some 58% of Israeli Jews think that Israel does not need to show greater flexibility to facilitate resuming talks, while 37% think more flexibility is called for.
A majority of Jewish Israelis (67%) believe that the Palestinian Authority does not want to resume peace negotiations, while a majority of Arab Israelis (86%) believe it does.
The survey was conducted on July 1-3. It included 601 respondents who constitute a representative sample of the country’s adult population. The survey has a 4.5% margin of error.
In a related development, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin met in Jerusalem with German Development Minister Dirk Niebel and argued against a growing movement inside Germany and the EU to specially label products from the settlements.
Elkin said this would harm Palestinian workers and the Palestinian economy, since some 22,500 Palestinians work in the settlements and their jobs would be in jeopardy if firms moved out because of the labeling issue.
It was paradoxical, Elkin argued, that the Europeans were considering the move – which would harm the Palestinian economy – while simultaneously approaching Israel with complaints that it was not approving or moving forward European-backed projects in Area C of the West Bank, which they argue will strengthen the Palestinian economy.
Niebel, according to a statement issued by the German Embassy, said Berlin welcomed Kerry’s initiative to resuscitate the talks.
He said that during his visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah he was trying to work toward better coordination between Israel’s security needs and the development needs of the Palestinians.