US President Barack Obama will not present a new peace initiative when he visits Israel and the Palestinian territories next month, and instead is coming “to listen,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday,
Obama is scheduled to arrive in Israel March 20.
Kerry, who is in the midst of his first foreign trip since taking office and is expected to accompany the president during his visit to Israel, was speaking to a group of students in Germany.
“We’re not going to go and sort of plunk a plan down and tell everybody what they have to do,” Reuters quoted Kerry as saying. “I want to consult and the president wants to listen.”
The US is taking a talk-, listen- and think-before-acting approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kerry said, noting that the president would decide how to move forward with the two sides only after returning from the region.
“We really hope everybody will step back a little and try to find a way to proceed very calmly and very thoughtfully in these next days [and] leave the opportunities for peaceful resolution open,” Kerry said.
Kerry met with senior Palestinian officials last week to discuss the possibility of reviving peace talks with Israel, as well as Obama’s visit.
Saeb Erekat, the top negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, and Mohammed Eshtaya, a member of the PA’s negotiating team, presented Kerry, who took office earlier this month, with the Palestinian conditions to resume negotiations with Israel. Those include an end to construction in Jewish settlements and the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down shortly before Netanyahu’s election in early 2009 and have remained frozen throughout his term. Palestinians say the reason for the impasse is the dispute over Israel’s construction of settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Jerusalem maintains that it is prepared to restart negotiations without preconditions, but that Palestinians will have to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.