Obama, PM discuss peace talks, Kerry to visit Israel

State heads agree to continue cooperation on security issues.

Livni and Kerry in Rome May 8, 2013370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Livni and Kerry in Rome May 8, 2013370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had a telephone conversation Wednesday about Middle East peace and regional security issues, according to the White House.
They spoke as US Secretary of State John Kerry announced plans to return to Israel in two weeks as part of a renewed American diplomatic initiative to restart direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which have been largely frozen since December 2008.
It is the first conversation between the two leaders the White House has made public since Israeli jets attacked Syrian targets twice in recent days.
The two leaders agreed to continue close cooperation on a range of security issues, the White House said but did not provide further details.
Kerry is scheduled to meet separately with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“We all believe that we’re working with a short time span. We understand an imperative to try to have some sense of direction as rapidly as we can,” Kerry said Wednesday in Rome before meeting with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
Livni told reporters after the meeting that all issues were dealt in depth during their talk.
“We had quite a good conversation and dialogue today with Secretary John Kerry,” Livni said. “The whole idea is to relaunch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. We believe that relaunching negotiations and achieving an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is in Israel’s interest.”
Livni said that Kerry’s “enthusiasm” and “determination” were needed to break the “stalemate” and “stagnation.
Livni, who is in charge of negotiations, and who headed the direct talks under former prime minister Ehud Olmert, said she hoped to see the Palestinians in the negotiating room.
“The idea is to end the conflict in accordance with the vision of two states for two people,” she said.
It’s her second meeting with Kerry in less than a week. The two spoke in Washington, DC, on Thursday. Special Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molho was present at both meetings. Last week in DC, Kerry also spoke with PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
While in Rome on Wednesday, Kerry also meet with Qatar’s Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim. He will also meet with Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh on Thursday.
“We are working through a threshold of questions, and we’re doing it with a seriousness and purpose that I think Minister Livni would agree with me has not been present in a while,” Kerry said.
He added that his efforts were bolstered by the Arab League decision last month to modify its 2002 peace plan.
The plan now allows for “minor agreed border modifications, equal in size and quality, in the same geographical area, and that do not harm Palestinian interests.”
Livni added, “I believe that what you are doing here will create hope in the region, because some of us lost hope. And this is something that we need, not just as a vague idea, but something which is concrete.”
Abbas has insisted that he won’t talk with Israel unless it halts West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem. Israel has refused to cede to that request and has insisted that talks be held without preconditions.
But unconfirmed reports have persisted about Israeli initiatives to offer the Palestinians some form of a partial freeze, even though Israel’s 10-month moratorium on new housing starts from November 2009 to September 2010 failed to substantively restart the negotiations.
Settlers reported on Tuesday that Netanyahu had frozen tenders on public housing projects in four settlements: Efrat, Ariel, Karnei Shomron and Givat Ze’ev.
Avi Ro’eh, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, reached out to Netanyahu in China seeking clarification. As of press time Wednesday night, he had not heard back.