Kerry: Israel’s approach to PA unity is appropriate

Secretary talks up Obama’s success bringing Iran to talks, but says he is disappointed with outcome of negotiations

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

John Kerry watching Barack Obama deliver a major policy address on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (photo credit: US State Department)
John Kerry watching Barack Obama deliver a major policy address on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (photo credit: US State Department)

WASHINGTON — A day after President Barack Obama passed on discussing the stalled peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians in a major foreign policy address, Secretary of State John Kerry said although he was “disappointed” with the outcome of nine months of talks, Israel’s wait-and-see approach to Palestinian unity talks was “appropriate.”

During an interview aired Thursday evening on PBS, Kerry said that he was “disappointed that the process, what is in place, that that didn’t produce the next step.”

Discussing the impasse — peace talks collapsed last month in an orgy of Israeli-Palestinian recrimination, with no progress made — Kerry said that “President Abbas has said that he is prepared to go back to the talks, but he has certain conditions that have to be met. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel are waiting to see what happens with the Hamas reconciliation, with the announcement of a new government, with the question of what that new government may or may not choose to do.

“That’s an appropriate thing to be doing,” Kerry added. “We’re all waiting to see what happens.”

An interim unity Palestinian government is expected to be announced in the coming days, following a reconciliation between the Fatah and Hamas factions.

Both Israel and the US regard Hamas as a terror group, and have said the inclusion of Hamas in the government would present problems in cooperating with the Palestinian Authority. Israel decided to suspend all talks with the PA after the Fatah-Hamas unity deal was announced.

On Thursday, US National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said that the Obama administration “will not make decisions until we see the final formation of the interim government and have the opportunity to assess and make a determination about whether this is a government we can work with.”

Kerry denied that he was an optimist for believing that talks could bear fruit, and said he was, rather, a realist.

“My reality check tells me that neither side is going to be able to live for the long haul with the status quo without serious problems evolving. So eventually, there’ll have to be some discussion about some management of that process,” he told PBS’s Gwen Ifill. “Whether it’s a full-blown peace process or whether it’s individual steps or not, I don’t know, but I know this: that Israel’s security, which is paramount for the United States and for Israelis, will be better protected by finding a road ahead; Palestinian rights and ability to have a state can only come through some kind of political process; and both of those aspirations are what govern life ultimately in that region and the hopes of that region.”

He repeated warnings that he has made in recent months that neither party to the talks “can afford to simply maintain the status quo and believe that there’s a road to greater stability and to peace without re-engaging and without coming back at some point in time to the negotiating process.”

Kerry did not, however, repeat an earlier warning that a failure to reach an agreement would create a situation in which Israel would become an “apartheid state” or — as he later rephrased it — “a unitary, binational state cannot be the democratic Jewish state that Israel deserves.”

After pundits cited Obama’s failure to mention the peace process during his West Point address this week as a sign that the administration was eager to put the past nine months of negotiations behind it, Kerry emphasized Thursday that he viewed his job as “to try to find the optimism and the possibilities, not to give up, and I refuse to give up.”

“I think that we have to find the way ahead. This hasn’t gone away in 40, 50 years, and it’s not going to suddenly just sort of solve itself by itself,” he added. “That’s our job — to try to push the process forward.”

Kerry’s interview was part of a media blitz launched by the administration Wednesday to push its foreign policy agenda in coming weeks. Of almost a half-dozen, high-profile media spots in the past 36 hours, the Thursday evening interview was the first one in which Kerry openly reflected on the stalled peace talks.

Addressing a question about Syria, Kerry hit back at critics of the administration who had claimed the decision not to act militarily was a sign of weakness.

Obama succeeded in getting 92 percent of chemical weapons out of Syria, Kerry said, expressing confidence that the last remaining transfer will take place.

Repeating a theme taken up during Obama’s West Point speech on Wednesday, Kerry also talked up the administration’s engagement with Iran as a major foreign policy achievement.

“We were on a course to absolute collision where they were building a nuclear system and the world was standing opposed to that,” Kerry said. “But the president put in place a series of sanctions, a capacity to be able to bring Iran to the table. We are now in the middle of negotiations.”

Despite continuing questions regarding the actual impact of the partial lifting of sanctions following the initiation of the interim Joint Plan of Action deal in January, Kerry said that “everyone will agree the sanctions regime has held together.

“The nuclear program has been frozen and rolled backwards, and we now have expanded the amount of time that Iran might have for breakout. That’s a success,” added Kerry.

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