Frustrated by Israeli and Palestinian actions that have complicated his furious effort to salvage foundering peace talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday exhorted leaders on both sides to “lead” and to do so now to prevent the negotiations from collapsing.
In Algeria for strategic security talks after traveling to the Mideast twice in the past 10 days to rescue the peace process, Kerry said there are limits to what the Obama administration can do to push the parties together. He vowed to continue his efforts “no matter what.” But he also stressed he could not force Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas to continue the talks, let alone actually resolve the long-running conflict.
“You can facilitate, you can push, you can nudge, but the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions and compromises,” he said. “The leaders have to lead and they have to be able to see a moment when it’s there.”
He recalled the old adage that you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink.
“Now is the time to drink,” Kerry said. “The leaders need to know that.”
Later, Kerry told reporters he planned to talk with both Netanyahu and Abbas on Thursday afternoon.
Kerry’s comments came hours after an emergency meeting between the chief Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and American mediator Martin Indyk fell apart after a marathon all-night session, according to a report in the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
According to the report, head Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Israeli side that he was representing the state of Palestine, and not an authority vested with powers by Israel, a statement which angered Israeli negotiators Tzipi Livni and Itzhak Molho.
According to Ma’an, the meeting went from 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to 4:30 a.m. Thursday.
During the talks, Palestinian negotiator Majed Faraj, a head of the PA’s intelligence service, told Indyk to stop supporting Israel, which he said did not need any more security, and said they should focus on holding political, not security, negotiations, according to the report.
Israel has made security guarantees a central demand in the talks.
Faraj added that Ramallah was not there to discuss a few prisoners but rather “our capital Jerusalem,” and said the Palestinians would take Israel to international court for war crimes, Ma’an reported.
There was no Israeli or American confirmation of the Ma’an report.
Kerry has spent much of the last two weeks frantically trying to keep the peace talks from breaking down. He saw Netanyahu in Israel on Monday and Abbas last week in Jordan, but canceled a return trip on Wednesday after the Palestinians said they would seek greater United Nations recognition over Israeli objections. Abbas announced the move after Israel refused to release a group of Palestinian prisoners it had earlier agreed to free.
Both actions run counter to the agreement the two sides reached last year to negotiate a settlement by the end of April.
Despite eight months of talks, there have been few, if any, tangible signs of progress. Confronted with the deadlock, Kerry and his team have incrementally lowered the bar for success of the talks from a comprehensive peace deal to a framework for an agreement and are now trying merely to keep the two sides talking beyond the initial target date.
Kerry said both Netanyahu and Abbas have told him they remain committed to the process.