US Secretary of State Kerry returned to Jerusalem Friday for a second visit in less than 24 hours, after 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.
The US’s top diplomat was to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and with President Shimon Peres later Friday.
Kerry, who is pursuing an American-led push to revive long-dormant talks between Israel and the Palestinians, on Thursday night held a four-hour dinner meeting with Netanyahu that stretched into Friday morning.
“It’s good to be back and I look forward to our conversation. We have a lot to talk about, obviously, as you know,” Kerry told Abbas earlier Friday.
As reporters and photographers were ushered out of that meeting, Kerry turned to Abbas and said, “We had a good, long meeting.” It was an apparent reference to his meeting with Netanyahu the night before. “We’re going back.”
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 Friday.
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 re-launching 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.