Kerry holds confab with Arab diplomats on peace initiative

PA official says representatives expected to announce they will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (center) at a meeting with Arab leaders in Paris, on January 12, 2014 (photo credit: US State Department official)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (center) at a meeting with Arab leaders in Paris, on January 12, 2014 (photo credit: US State Department official)

US Secretary of State John Kerry met Sunday with Arab foreign ministers tasked with managing the Arab Peace Initiative to discuss ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinian sources had reported Kerry would use the meeting to push for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state to be added to the landmark offer, a request they would refuse, Palestinian Authority Foreign Affairs Minister Riad al-Maliki told Palestinian radio.

The meeting took place in Paris and was attended by the foreign ministers of Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt and Morocco, as well as Maliki.

The diplomats also expected to be briefed on Kerry’s progress, the Kuwait News Agency reported.

It was the third meeting between Kerry and the Arab League forum since US-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinians were launched last July.

Before the talks, Maliki told Palestinian radio that the ministers would insist to Kerry that they will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the Chinese Xinhua news agency reported.

“The delegation will tell Kerry that there is a unified Arab stance rejecting the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state,” Maliki told Voice of Palestine radio, according to the report.

Kerry was last in the region earlier in the month, when he held meetings in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Amman and Riyadh to push a framework peace agreement that will lay out the parameters for future talks.

Gaining Saudi backing for the move, Kerry said his framework deal was heavily based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, first proposed by the Saudi king, which would exchange Arab normalization for an Israeli pullout from conquered areas.

A Palestinian source told the al-Ayyam news outlet that Kerry would seek to alter the language of the Arab peace Initiative to meet Israel’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state.

However, Palestinians are staunchly opposed to making such a concession.

On Saturday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, who is said to oppose a framework agreement, told Kerry in the meeting that Amman viewed “final status issues including Jerusalem, security, water, borders and refugees” as a “national interest,” according to the state-run Petra news agency.

On Thursday, a senior Palestinian official claimed Kerry had threatened to discontinue all American aid to the Palestinian Authority if the current round of negotiations does not result in a peace agreement.

Taysir Khaled, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said that the US had implied it would stop giving financial aid to the Palestinian Authority and would not be able to prevent Israeli expansion of West Bank settlements, if a framework for a long-lasting accord was not agreed upon, Maariv reported.

Kerry has made 10 visits to the region since talks resumed last July, shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to mediate talks.

But the two sides have reportedly been at odds over almost every aspect of the core issues involved in a two-state accord. As part of a framework deal designed to keep the talks going past an April deadline, Kerry has been reportedly pushing Netanyahu to agree to negotiations on the basis of a Palestinian state to be established along the pre-1967 lines, with land-swap adjustments, and urging Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Beyond these points, the two sides are said to disagree over security arrangements, border demarcations, and the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugee demands under a permanent deal. There have also been disputes over who will be released in a final phase of prisoner releases by Israel of terror convicts in the coming months.

An official in Ramallah told Palestinian newspaper al-Ayyam that the meetings recently held between Kerry and the Palestinian leadership failed to reach an agreement on any issue.

“We talked about everything, but without agreement on anything,” the official said in an article published Monday.

According to the newspaper, the Palestinians presented their positions on all the issues to Kerry, and are expecting to be presented with the positions of the US secretary of state for the framework agreement.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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