US Secretary of State John Kerry praised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday for sticking with the so-far fruitless peace talks with Israel “despite difficulties that he and Palestinians have perceived in the process.”
Speaking in Ramallah shortly after meeting the Palestinian leader, Kerry noted that the sides face a March deadline for a resolution, having entered their fifth month of an agreed-upon nine-month negotiations window without any major breakthroughs.
“The interests are very similar, but there are questions of sovereignty; questions of respect and dignity, which are obviously significant to the Palestinians and Israelis; very serious questions [of] security and also of longer term issues of how we end this conflict once and for all,” said Kerry, who struck a conciliatory tone after meeting with Abbas for just over three hours.
“We, I think, made some progress,” Kerry said, suggesting he might return in about a week to resume the discussions.
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu expressed support for the talks, saying he welcomed American involvement. ”I want to say that Israel is ready for a historic peace, and it’s a peace based on two states for two peoples,” he said during a joint press conference with Kerry.
But he also criticized the Palestinian side for what he called “artificial crises.”
“What we need is not grandstanding, but understanding and agreements and that requires hard and serious hard work. I’m fully committed and Israel is fully committed to such an effort and I hope the Palestinians are committed to this goal as well,” Netanyahu said.
Kerry arrived in the region Wednesday night for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials on the peace talks, and to present an American plan for security arrangements in the West Bank under a possible future peace accord.
A Palestinian official told Reuters on Thursday that Palestinians rejected the ideas raised by Kerry.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and declined to elaborate on the proposals, said Kerry presented them to Abbas after discussing them separately with Netanyahu.
“The Palestinian side rejected them because they would only lead to prolonging and maintaining the occupation,” the official said.
Abbas was not immediately available after the Ramallah talks and did not join Kerry in his brief comments to reporters.
In a statement after meeting with Kerry, Netanyahu said in any deal “Israel can and must be able to defend by itself with our own forces against any foreseeable threat.”