Kerry holds 'useful' meetings with PM, Abbas

US secretary of state holds follow up meetings with leaders; US official: Kerry told sides "peace not only possible, but necessary."

Kerry and Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Kerry and Netanyahu 370
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
After the pomp and ceremony of US President Barack Obama’s three-day trip to the region, Secretary of State John Kerry began nitty-gritty efforts at re-starting talks between Israel and the Palestinians with a late night meeting Saturday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu which came after a meeting in Jordan with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
"Secretary Kerry had useful follow up meetings with both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu. These meetings were the natural next step to the discussions the president and Secretary Kerry had this week (with Israeli and Palestinian officials)," said a senior US State Department official.
"In both meetings, Secretary Kerry reiterated that peace is not only possible, but necessary for the future of the Israeli and Palestinian people," added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A Palestinian source said Kerry's meeting with Abbas had focused on "trying to find common ground between both sides to see if there is ground to resume peace talks", and cautioned against expecting any quick results.
"It could take some time" to achieve a formal resumption of negotiations, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kerry, who arrived in the region last Tuesday, accompanied Obama during his two days in Jerusalem and Ramallah, and also went with him to Jordan on Friday.
As Obama left Jordan on Saturday to return to Washington, Kerry returned to Jerusalem.
Indicating that the meeting focused on the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu was joined in his talks with Kerry by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, his minister in charge of talks with the Palestinians; Yitzhak Molcho, Netanyahu’s envoy on the Palestinian issue; and National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror.
One government official said that Israel’s message to Kerry would be that the diplomatic process would only succeed if “it is a two way street.”
“If only one side – the Israeli side – is asked to be flexible, then it won’t work,” the official said. “It is crucial that this be a two way street, and both sides move together.
It cannot be that only Israel is expected to take steps. We are prepared to move forward together with the Palestinians.”
Obama, at a press conference in Jordan with King Abdullah II on Friday, said his immediate hope was that “we can explore with the parties a mechanism for them to sit back down, to get rid of some of the old assumptions, to think in new ways and to get this done.”
During his speech on Thursday to Israeli students in Jerusalem, Obama reiterated that the US remained strongly committed to working for a two-state solution, and urged the Israeli public to push its leaders forward toward that same goal.
Earlier, at a press conference in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he stressed that for the sides to move forward, everyone was “going to have to get out of some of the formulas and habits that blocked progress for so long. Both sides are going to have to think anew.”
Obama, who said he “absolutely believes” peace was still possible, said that it was difficult because “sometimes, even though we know what compromises have to be made in order to achieve peace, it’s hard to admit that those compromises need to be made, because people want to cling on to their old positions and want to have 100 percent of what they want, or 95% of what they want, instead of making the necessary compromises.”
Regarding the Palestinian Authority demand that Israel freeze all settlement activity before negotiations could be renewed, Obama said, “If the expectation is that we can only have direct negotiations when everything is settled ahead of time, then there’s no point for negotiations.”
Obama spent his last morning in Israel on Friday first laying wreaths on the graves of Theodor Herzl and slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on Mount Herzl, and then visiting Yad Vashem. He then met with Netanyahu for some two hours, before visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and then leaving via Ben-Gurion Airport.
At the airport he met another time with Netanyahu for an hour, which included the call Netanyahu made to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan where he apologized for mishaps during the Mavi Marmara raid that led to the killing of nine Turks.
All told, beyond the ceremonial and symbolic aspects of the US president’s two-day visit, Obama met intensively with Netanyahu for about nine hours, spread over three meetings.
The symbolic aspects, including his outreach to Israelis, seemed to have already reaped benefits: a Channel 2 survey found that 39% of the public said that their perceptions of Obama improved or improved greatly as a result of the visit; 34% said the visit did not change their perceptions; and only 2% said that their feelings toward the US president became more negative.
Regarding Israeli confidence that the US will not allow Iran to get nuclear arms, some 58% of the public said they believe or believe strongly that Obama will not let Iran to go nuclear, while 38% did not believe he will keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.