President Shimon Peres praised US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts Friday to revive long-dormant peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
“The State of Israel appreciates your efforts to renew negotiations. Know that the whole country is behind you,” Peres was quoted by Ynet as telling Kerry.
“The yearning for peace crosses party lines… There is a clear majority that backs the principle of a two-state solution,” added the president.
Peres hosted Kerry for Shabbat dinner after the secretary of state met for a second time in less than 24 hours with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier Friday, following his return from a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, Jordan, Kerry’s base of operations during his stop in the Middle East. This is Kerry’s fifth trip to the region in three months.
His Friday evening talks with Netanyahu were “detailed and significant,” according to a State Department source quoted by AFP.
Kerry was set to travel to Jordan once again late Friday and hold a press conference Saturday, Army Radio reported, after which he will return to Israel for a third time.
On Thursday night, Kerry held a four-hour dinner meeting with Netanyahu that stretched into Friday morning.
Earlier Friday, the head of Israel’s opposition said she will back Netanyahu in the event that US-led efforts to broker new peace talks with the Palestinians bear fruit, despite their bitter differences on economic and social policy.
“The Israeli government must hold a dialogue that’s driven by optimism, rather than become addicted to the traditional mantra that there’s no chance,” Labor Party chief MK Shelly Yachimovich said.
Yachimovich’s guarantee of a parliamentary “safety net” is meant as an assurance that despite the proliferation in Netanyahu‘s government of hardliners who oppose a two-state solution, any peace initiative presented by the prime minister will gain the Knesset’s approval.
“The Zionist objective is a Jewish and democratic nation-state, which is why we reject the binational state that may come as a result of ongoing stagnation” in peace talks, Yachimovich was quoted by Channel 10 as saying.
Yachimovich’s supportive tone stood in stark contrast to that of the further-left Meretz party whose leader, MK Zahava Gal-on, on Friday said that a decision on the eve of Kerry’s visit to push forward with the construction of 69 new Jewish homes in an East Jerusalem neighborhood was tantamount to “giving the Americans the finger.”
US State Department officials say that while there are no scheduled plans for a three-way summit with Netanyahu and Abbas during Kerry’s trip, they are confident that both sides are open to negotiations, or at least sitting down together at the same table to restart talks that broke down in 2008.
Kerry, they say, will continue to try to find common ground between the two sides that would lead to a relaunching of peace talks. On this trip, Kerry is trying to pin down precisely what conditions Abbas and Netanyahu have for restarting talks and perhaps discuss confidence-building measures.
Abbas has insisted that Israel freeze all settlement activity as a precondition for talks. He is also seeking the release of long-term Palestinian security prisoners. Netanyahu has rejected all preconditions, but said he is willing to discuss all issues relating to Israeli-Palestinian peace in direct talks.
Beyond that, Kerry wants to talk about the positive outcomes, such as enhanced economic growth, of a two-state solution. But at the same time, the secretary, who has long-time relationships with officials from both sides, will remind them of what’s at stake if the conflict is left unresolved, they said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.