Kerry said to plan Israel visit in bid to ease tensions

In first visit a year, secretary set to meet Netanyahu Tuesday to discuss implementing confidence-building measures

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu (left), meeting with John Kerry in Jerusalem, March 31, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu (left), meeting with John Kerry in Jerusalem, March 31, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO/Flash90)

In a bid to calm mounting Israeli-Palestinian tensions, US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Israel and the West Bank next week to discuss the implementation of confidence building measures, Hebrew-language media reported Wednesday.

The secretary of state will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, Channel 2 reported.

US special envoy on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Frank Lowenstein will arrive in Israel on Thursday ahead of the talks, according to the report.

There was no official confirmation.

Kerry’s visit to Israel would come on the heels of Netanyahu’s trip to Washington last week, where the prime minister discussed with US leaders a series of goodwill gestures Jerusalem intends to take to stabilize relations with the Palestinians.

Kerry at the time stressed that the Obama administration would keep pushing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in its remaining 16 months in office. US-backed talks collapsed in April 2014 after a nine-month effort and negotiations have been in a deep freeze ever since.

Addressing an audience at Harvard University last week, Kerry said the expansion of Israeli settlements has increased Palestinian frustration, leading to the recent upswing in violence that saw almost daily attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces.

“Unless we get going, the two-state solution will be conceivably stolen from everybody,” Kerry warned.

Kerry, who is currently in Paris to show solidarity with France in the wake of last week’s attacks, has not visited Israel or the Palestinian territories in over a year.

He was in Amman last month to discuss installing surveillance cameras at the Temple Mount. Israel has welcomed the camera plan, saying the surveillance would prove it is doing nothing wrong and expose violent activities by Palestinian protesters. The Palestinians, however, have given the plan a cool reception, saying Israel would use the cameras to identify and arrest demonstrators.

Israel has seen a recent uptick in violence that began two months ago amid tensions surrounding the Temple Mount. In mid-September, Palestinian protesters clashed frequently with Israeli forces at the site. By October, Palestinian terrorists were perpetrating near-daily stabbings and shootings, mainly in Jerusalem and the West Bank, but central Israel had also seen some assaults.

Palestinians claim Israel is planning to change the status quo on the Mount, where Jews can visit but not pray. Israel has vehemently denied the claim.

The uptick in violence also saw clashes between Palestinian protesters and IDF and Border Police forces in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

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