As Obama flies home, Kerry gets down to business
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As Obama flies home, Kerry gets down to business

US secretary, after meeting with Abbas in Amman, heading back to Jerusalem for talks with Netanyahu and Livni late Saturday

US Secretary of State John Kerry waves as he boards his plane in March (photo credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
US Secretary of State John Kerry waves as he boards his plane in March (photo credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

AMMAN, Jordan — US Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders to further explore options for relaunching stalled peace talks after President Barack Obama’s Mideast trip this week.

Following up on Obama’s visits to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the State Department said Kerry would see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Saturday. After that meeting, Kerry will return to Jerusalem to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

His talks in Jerusalem will also be attended by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni — the new ministerial overseer of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts — along with Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror and his key negotiator, lawyer Yitzhak Molcho.

The focus: New ideas for enabling a resumption of direct negotiations. Netanyahu has reportedly been considering a package of goodwill gestures — including approval of building requests, and a release of prisoners — designed to encourage Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come back to the peace table.

Moves to enable a resumption of talks were reportedly discussed by Obama and Netanyahu on Friday morning, with Netanyahu detailing Israel’s security needs in the Jordan Valley under a future accord, and specifying that he wanted to see a “performance-based progression” in the talks — with measurable change on the ground as the criterion for gradual steps toward the “broad agreement” Obama said he was seeking in Ramallah Thursday.

During his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority as president, Obama called for the resumption of peace negotiations. He offered no new plan on how to get there but said Kerry would be spending considerable time on the matter.

“Peace is necessary,” Obama said Thursday in an address to Israeli students in Jerusalem. But he was decidedly more vague about what he or his secretary of state were going to do about it. Obama’s rhetoric throughout the visit seemed to suggest that the will to achieve peace must first and foremost come from the parties themselves, and that he wants to merely assume the position of an honest broker, an interlocutor who doesn’t impose concessions on either side.

It seems that Kerry, however, is eager to engage and try to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together, and if not reach a final agreement, perhaps an interim solution.

“Kerry very much wants to be active in this area. Obama is cautious about using his presidential political capital, but Kerry is eager to act — which is why he arrived before Obama and will leave after he goes,” Michael Herzog, a veteran of past Israeli peace negation teams, told the Global Post.

In the here and now of global politics, Obama is leaving behind his secretary of state to try to at least get negotiations underway again. Kerry is expected to spend much time in the region in the coming weeks and months.

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