Days after leaving, Kerry to return to Jerusalem

Iran and peace talks on the agenda in meeting with Netanyahu; top US diplomat will also travel to Ramallah

US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem, December 6, 2013 (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)
US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem, December 6, 2013 (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Israel Wednesday for the second time in as many weeks. He will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Iran and the ongoing peace negotiations with the Palestinians, the US State Department announced Monday.

Kerry will also meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah during his trip, before traveling on to Asia. This will be his ninth visit to Israel since becoming the top US diplomat less than a year ago, as he attempts to patch together an elusive peace deal.

The secretary will be looking to build on a visit last week, after which he proclaimed that the sides were “closer to peace than we’ve been in years.” However, he failed to win over either the Israelis or the Palestinians with a proposed security plan, and there have been no other reports of progress in the talks.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide to Abbas, on Monday railed against US attempts to broker a broad outline for Israeli-Palestinian peace, saying Kerry was breaking a promise to try to negotiate a final agreement in the current nine-month cycle of talks.

The Palestinian leadership is concerned that a framework deal will accommodate very specific Israeli security demands, while offering only vague promises to the Palestinians, Rabbo said.

“This contradicts completely what we were promised by the American secretary of state at the beginning of this peace process… to avoid any partial or interim agreements,” he told the Voice of Palestine radio station.

Unnamed Palestinian officials also accused Kerry of blackmailing their representatives, pushing for a delay in planned prisoner releases so they can coincide with the signing of a potential outline agreement. Kerry wants the last two scheduled releases to be combined and carried out in late January, the officials said.

Rabbo did not refer to the details of Kerry’s purported request but said the Palestinians insist that the next group of prisoners be released at the end of December, as scheduled.

“Our brothers, the prisoners, should know that they are being used and their cause is being used for extortion, and they are the first to reject such extortion,” he said.

Both Kerry and President Barack Obama said over the weekend that the US is pursuing a framework agreement, but did not provide details. Obama said it’s possible to reach such a deal over the next few months.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that the US is not focused on an interim deal, but is focused on a final deal. She also said that there will be a process for getting to a final deal, but did not elaborate.

She said Obama and Kerry both referred last weekend to a “framework.”

Acknowledging that Obama and Kerry referred to a “framework,” Psaki said, “I think some thought — took that to mean interim… It does not mean interim. We still remain focused on a final status agreement.”

The US security plan presented by Kerry last week reportedly provided for a series of 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. These arrangements would hold for many years, but not necessarily permanently, a Channel 2 report revealed, the implication being that in a future, new era of stability and mutual confidence, Israel might transfer more authority to the Palestinians.

Under last week’s proposal, the US would reportedly 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.

According to Channel 10 News, the plan’s layout also stated that “Greater Jerusalem,” which would include the city’s adjacent towns and villages, would be divided. The eastern side of the city would serve as the capital of a Palestinian state, while the western part would continue serving as Israel’s capital.

It is not clear how Jerusalem’s Old City, at the heart of the conflict, would be administered under the proposed US plan.

The Palestinians have largely rejected the proposal, maintaining that any IDF presence in the Jordan Valley would violate their sovereignty.

Israeli sources called the security plan “interesting” and “complex” but ultimately “not sufficient,” according to Channel 2. Nonetheless, Israel is said to be studying the plan and has not rejected it outright.

The current round of talks, which began in July after more than three years of diplomatic stagnation, is scheduled to end in March.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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