US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday morning in Jerusalem amid a severe winter storm which has left thousands without power and stranded hundreds of travelers on roads leading to and from the capital.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon joined the meeting, which focused on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“I have heard of making guests welcome and feeling at home. This is about as far as I’ve ever seen anything go … giving me a New England snowstorm,” said the US secretary of state as he viewed a snow-covered Old City of Jerusalem with Netanyahu.
Some reports said Kerry would delay his departure because of the poor weather, and utilize the time for further talks — focused on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and the effort to thwart Iran’s rogue nuclear program.
The US secretary of state met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah late Thursday evening, immediately after arriving on his ninth visit this year.
Concerned that a final status agreement may not be possible by the May target date the two sides accepted when they resumed talks in August, US officials said Kerry was hoping for a framework accord that would contain the principles of a comprehensive pact, but not specific details. If an outline were achieved, the negotiations could be extended beyond the nine-month timeline originally set by Kerry.
The officials, who spoke to reporters aboard Kerry’s plane on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly, stressed that an agreement on all issues — including security, borders of a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees — by May remains the goal.
But, should that prove unworkable, they said a framework agreement would buy time for additional negotiations.
A framework accord, the officials said, would be a “logical step” on the path to a final status agreement.
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem told Israel Radio Friday that they did not expect any breakthroughs in the Netanyahu-Kerry talks and that an extension to the nine-month deadline to negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord would likely be necessary.
Great Photo of John Kerry with PM Netanyahu checking up on the snow today in Jerusalem pic.twitter.com/eO9QOOFx1i
— Israel News Feed (@IsraelHatzolah) December 13, 2013
The sources further said that Israel was waiting for a response from the Palestinians on three key issues, namely the recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, a commitment to end all claims under a permanent accord, and the issue of Palestinian refugee claims.
Neither Kerry nor Abbas gave statements Thursday, but in an interview the PA president gave to local Palestinian TV prior to the meeting, he said that if Israel insisted on a security presence in the Jordan Valley, as Netanyahu has demanded, negotiations would be called off. He also reportedly agreed to a tentative extension of one month should any progress in talks be made, according to Israel Radio.
Abbas also told Sky News Arabia on Thursday that the Palestinians would not accept an interim deal, but would accept “a final agreement that can be implemented in stages.”
Kerry was initially pushing for a tripartite meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas during his current visit to the region, Channel 2 reported Thursday.
The US secretary of state landed at Ben Gurion Airport Thursday evening, accompanied by former US general John Allen, architect of the security plan proposed by the US during Kerry’s visit last week. The plan has been warily received by Israel, and heavily criticized by Palestinian officials.
According to an Israeli official who spoke to Channel 2, after 20 meetings between chief negotiators Tzipi Livni, Saeb Erekat and American envoy Martin Indyk, negotiations between the two sides are “frozen.”
Last week, after detailing reported elements of the American security proposal, Israeli media said that Kerry intended to set out American proposals in the near future to resolve the other core issues — Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian state, and the Palestinian refugees.
Channel 2 news reported that Israel, though “not satisfied” with the security proposals, had not rejected them. The Palestinian Authority was reported to have rejected them, but denied this.
Launching the current Israeli-Palestinian talks in late July, Kerry expressed confidence that a permanent peace accord ending the conflict could be reached within the following nine months; half of that period has now elapsed.
Kerry left Israel last Friday after three meetings in two days with Netanyahu and one session with Abbas.
Kerry said last Friday that “the people who really know what’s going on” in the negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides on a permanent accord “aren’t talking about it.” But reports of the security plan’s content leaked out over Thursday and Friday.
Among its key elements, the US security plan reportedly provides for a series of border crossings along the Jordan Valley border between the West Bank and Jordan which would be jointly controlled by Israel and the PA. The entire border itself, however, would remain under full Israeli control, with the IDF joined only by a symbolic Palestinian security presence, for 10-15 years. These arrangements would hold for many years, but not necessarily permanently, the Channel 2 report said, the implication being that in a future new era of stability and mutual confidence, Israel might transfer more authority to the Palestinians.
The US, under the proposal, would provide an additional security “envelope,” which would utilize drones and other high-tech equipment to provide real-time intelligence on any terrorist threats and other unlawful border activity.
Netanyahu has insisted on an Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley. The PA is firmly opposed to any ongoing Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley or elsewhere in its intended state.
While Kerry’s visit was primarily focused on the Palestinian issue, he and Netanyahu were also discussing Iran’s nuclear drive. Kerry and the US administration have defended the interim deal reached in Geneva last month, which Netanyahu has slammed as a “historic mistake.”
Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Yossi Cohen, is currently in the US heading a team that is meeting with US officials to seek to impact the ongoing world powers’ talks with the Iranians.