Keeping up marathon meetings, Livni and Kerry to parley

US secretary of state will also powwow with Jordanian counterpart amid ramped up efforts to get Israeli-Palestinian talks on track

John Kerry and Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem in March 2013. (photo credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy/Flash90)
John Kerry and Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem in March 2013. (photo credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy/Flash90)

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni will meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome this week as efforts intensify to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table for peace talks.

Kerry will meet with Livni, who is managing Israel’s diplomatic efforts vis-avis the Palestinians, on Wednesday, the State Department said early Tuesday.

Kerry will also meet with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh while in Italy. Amman has played a key role in facilitating contacts between Ramallah and Jerusalem.

The meetings come a week after the Arab League announced it would soften its position and support a peace deal that included minor land swaps.

Livni, who met with Kerry last week, called the renewed effort “good news.” Kerry “is completely involved, determined” to restart negotiations, which have largely been frozen since 2008, she said.

On Monday, former deputy prime minister Dan Meridor joined the chorus of moderate politicians backing the Arab peace initiative, saying Israel should “go for it.”

Meridor’s indication of support for the Arab League’s decision to modify its 2002 peace initiative was in sharp contrast to the cool reception from his fellow Likud party member, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The 2002 initiative offered comprehensive peace between Israel and the Muslim world in exchange for a withdrawal from all territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war, and resolution of other issues. Sweetening the offer last week, an Arab League delegation said in Washington that final borders could be drawn through mutually agreed land swaps.

Netanyahu did not directly respond, but appeared to poor cold water on the initiative when he said “the root of the conflict isn’t territorial.”

Meridor, who left the government a month and a half ago, told a breakfast meeting sponsored by the Israel Policy Forum that Kerry is serious about trying to revive the long-stalled negotiations, and if he succeeds “I’d be very happy.”

Kerry called the changed language in the Arab initiative a “very big step forward.”

If Kerry does revive negotiations, Meridor said, there should be two tracks — one political to negotiate a final settlement and the other to keep building a Palestinian state, as former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad was doing.

One of the major hold-ups to a resumption of negotiations is the Palestinian demand for a freeze on Israeli settlement building, which US President Barack Obama supported.

Meridor said it would be “a huge step” if the Palestinians drop their demand for a freeze on all settlement construction. At the same time, he said Israel should not continue building “all over the place,” but only in areas it intends to keep in a final settlement.

Kerry is currently in Moscow for meetings with top-level Russian officials on Syria, Afghanistan and other bilateral issues, the State Department said. On Wednesday, he will fly to Rome and also meet with Italian officials to discuss Syria and other issues in the Middle East.

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