US State Dept.: Peace talks will be kept private

Spokeswoman evades questions about details of Kerry's "progress" in restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

By JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
July 4, 2013 03:17
2 minute read.
Kerry, with Abbas, makes a short statement for reporters during recent visit.

kerry, abbas face reporters 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON – On the heels of yet another trip by US Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a press corps anxious for details that negotiations with Israel and the Palestinians, for the time being, would be kept private.

“The secretary believes, as many of the parties believe, that the best way to create the conditions for both parties going back to the table is for those talks and conversations to remain private,” Psaki said.

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After shuttling back and forth between meetings with Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry left a cadre of staff behind and told journalists only that “real progress” had been made.

What that progress may be was left to speculation, but experts say that preconditions for peace talks – regarding settlements, political prisoners, and territorial preconditions, among other issues – might be under negotiation, despite Kerry’s public insistence that those conditions would ultimately have to be resolved in any final-status agreement.

David Makovsky, director of the project on the Middle East peace process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, believes the parties may be closer to renewing talks than is widely believed – and that Kerry’s strategy may be to capitalize on low expectations.

“There are likely a few areas where each side is considering compromises, and they don’t want to disclose those compromises out of fear of domestic criticism,” says Makovsky.

“Whenever you compromise off your stated position, you run significant political risks.”



Makovsky points to a new poll just conducted by Hebrew University’s Harry Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace and the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, which found that 68 percent of Israelis and 69 percent of Palestinians believe the chance of establishing an independent Palestinian state in the next five years is low or nonexistent.

Despite an aggressive effort since resuming office in February, Kerry has revealed few details and virtually no strategic road map on how to end the historic conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The result has been confusion in many Washington circles, as the secretary seems preoccupied with the issue while Syria, Egypt and Iran pose imminent strategic crises to the region and the United States.

“We’re running out of time,” Kerry explained in an address to the American Jewish Committee, defending his push for peace talks. “We’re running out of possibilities. And let’s be clear: If we do not succeed now – and I know I’m raising those stakes – but if we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.”

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