WASHINGTON — A day after US Secretary of State John Kerry blamed Israel for the ongoing crisis in peace talks, he and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman met in Washington Wednesday, and put up a collegial front during a joint press appearance.
Liberman said to Kerry, “We know and everybody in Israel knows that you are really a very close friend, reliable friend.” The top American diplomat stood by his side, nodding.
According to Israeli officials, when the two later met privately, Kerry told Liberman that he does not blame Israel exclusively for the breakdown in negotiations with the Palestinians, but that during his testimony Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he was simply describing a timeline of events, and the natural difficulties that occurred in the course of complex and sensitive negotiations.
Kerry came under fire after the contentious committee hearing, where he was perceived as placing the lion’s share of blame on Israel for the collapse of talks.
Kerry also reasserted State Department talking points, including warnings that have been repeated frequently in the past week, that there is a “limit” to how much effort US officials are willing to put into talks if both sides are unwilling to make “difficult choices.”
Describing the crisis, Kerry said that “both sides wound up in a position of unhelpful moves.” He then offered a chronology in which “the prisoners were not released by Israel on the day they were supposed to be released and then another day passed and another day, and then 700 units were approved in Jerusalem and then poof — that was sort of the moment.”
The secretary of state was referring to the planned fourth release of Palestinian security prisoners, which was originally slated for March 29. Israel did not proceed with the release on time, with Jerusalem saying that it was delayed because the Palestinian Authority had demanded that Israeli Arabs be among those freed and was unwilling to commit to extend peace talks beyond their April 29 deadline.
On April 1, the Israel Lands Authority reissued a call for tenders for 708 homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which is located beyond the 1967 lines and was annexed by Israel.
Later that same day, PA President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 letters of accession to multilateral treaties and conventions, in what Israel said was a clear breach of Ramallah’s commitment not to take unilateral steps to advance their statehood bid so long as the talks were ongoing.
“The treaties were unhelpful, and we made that crystal clear to the Palestinians,” Kerry said at the Senate hearing.
Speaking to the press on Wednesday, Liberman said that Israel continues to support negotiations, and that Israel has already proven its willingness and its ability to reach peace with its neighbors. The only remaining question, according to the foreign minister, is whether Palestinians are honestly willing to reach an agreement, and not play a blame game.
“We’re ready to sacrifice a lot for this goal,” Liberman continued. “We proved our desire to achieve real peace with our neighbors, not only as a lip service, but in all our agreements that we signed with Egypt, with Jordan. We gave up territories three and a half times more than our territory today – Sinai, half of Judea Samaria, Gaza Strip. And I think that we really – we are looking for the same positive approach from the other side, and we think that any unilateral steps, they only can undermine all our efforts.”
Kerry confirmed that the two would discuss the state of peace talks, adding that “obviously, we are working hard to try to find a way forward and both parties indicate they would like to find a way to go forward in the talks.”
The secretary emphasized in his public comments that “our relationship with Israel, as everybody knows, is an historic and deep one,” and that “we remain totally committed to the security of Israel.”
As her boss was meeting with Liberman, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki denounced as “unfortunate” an order Wednesday from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to limit his cabinet’s contacts with their Palestinian counterparts.
“We are certainly aware of the announcement. We regard it as unfortunate,” Psaki said.
Netanyahu order came in response to “the Palestinian violation of their commitments under peace talks,” an Israeli official told AFP.
But Psaki shot back: “We believe that cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has provided benefits to both sides.”
“We continue to urge both sides to take steps that contribute to a conducive environment for peace.”
Raphael Ahren and AFP contributed to this report.