US Secretary of State John Kerry began efforts Saturday to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, in the wake of President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel and the West Bank, with reports of a US-devised package of arrangements to pave the way for new negotiations.
On Saturday night, Kerry held a meeting in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which was also attended by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni — the new ministerial overseer of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts — along with Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror and his key negotiator, lawyer Yitzhak Molcho.
Several hours previously, Kerry met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, where he also met with Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. Jordan would be pleased to host future talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Judeh reportedly told him.
The focus of the talks: New ideas for enabling a resumption of direct negotiations. Netanyahu has reportedly been considering a package of goodwill gestures — including approval of building requests, and a release of prisoners — designed to encourage Abbas to come back to the peace table.
Flush with his success in arranging Friday’s Israel-Turkey reconciliation, Kerry is hoping to be able to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree within days to new talks, Channel 10 reported Saturday night. The components: Israel will agree to release a number of Palestinian prisoners and to transfer certain West Bank areas from partial (Area B) to full (Area A) Palestinian control; the Palestinians will agree not to seek to take Israel to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes relating to its control and policies in the West Bank.
Moves to enable a resumption of talks were reportedly discussed by Obama and Netanyahu on Friday morning, with Netanyahu detailing Israel’s security needs in the Jordan Valley under a future accord, and specifying that he wanted to see a “performance-based progression” in the talks — with measurable change on the ground as the criterion for gradual steps toward the “broad agreement” Obama said he was seeking in Ramallah Thursday.
During his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority as president, Obama called for the resumption of peace negotiations. He offered no new plan on how to get there but said Kerry would be spending considerable time on the matter.
“Peace is necessary,” Obama said Thursday in an address to Israeli students in Jerusalem. But he was decidedly more vague about what he or his secretary of state were going to do about it. Obama’s rhetoric throughout the visit seemed to suggest that the will to achieve peace must first and foremost come from the parties themselves, and that he wants to merely assume the position of an honest broker, an interlocutor who doesn’t impose concessions on either side.
It seems that Kerry, however, is eager to engage and try to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together, and if not reach a final agreement, perhaps an interim solution.
“Kerry very much wants to be active in this area. Obama is cautious about using his presidential political capital, but Kerry is eager to act — which is why he arrived before Obama and will leave after he goes,” Michael Herzog, a veteran of past Israeli peace negation teams, told the Global Post.
In the here and now of global politics, Obama is leaving behind his secretary of state to try to at least get negotiations underway again. Kerry is expected to spend much time in the region in the coming weeks and months.