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Kerry said to seek new talks to hold off PA Security Council bid

Top US diplomat reportedly approached Netanyahu about what it would take to bring Israel back to the negotiating table

Benjamin Netanyahu, left, shaking hands with John Kerry in Washington in March 2014. (photo credit: US State Department)
Benjamin Netanyahu, left, shaking hands with John Kerry in Washington in March 2014. (photo credit: US State Department)

The US is looking to get Israel to agree to renew peace talks with the Palestinians based on the 1967 lines, as a way of checking Ramallah’s UN bid for statehood, an Israeli newspaper reported Wednesday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry recently asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if he would return to the negotiating table for discussions with the Palestinians on the basis on the 1967 ceasefire lines, with agreed upon land swaps, the Haaretz daily reported, citing unnamed diplomatic officials.

Should Kerry get the sides to the table for the first time since talks broke down in March, the move could potentially stave off a Palestinian proposal to the United Nations Security Council to set a timetable for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank.

While the US is expected to veto the bid, avoiding the vote altogether would save Washington from international criticism.

A date for a vote has not yet been set, but a draft of the proposal circulated last month called for an Israeli withdrawal by 2016.

According to the report, at a meeting in Washington two weeks ago, Kerry asked Netanyahu what his conditions would be to return to the table for negotiations along the 1967 lines, with agreed-upon swaps.

Even if Netanyahu came aboard, it’s not clear Ramallah would also agree. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded Israel release prisoners, including Israeli citizens, or a settlement freeze in the past in exchange for negotiations.

The new peace talks would potentially pick up where nine months of US-brokered talks broke off in late March amid mutual finger-pointing.

The summer war in Gaza , following a reconciliation agreement that brought Hamas into the fold of the Palestinian Authority, seemed to shove peace prospects off the agenda, but the US says it has remained committed to pushing a resumption in negotiations.

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during the opening session of the Gaza donor conference in Cairo on October 12, 2014, aimed at helping rebuild the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: AFP/Carolyn Kaster/Pool)
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during the opening session of the Gaza donor conference in Cairo on October 12, 2014, aimed at helping rebuild the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: AFP/Carolyn Kaster/Pool)

On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the US had not “seen a change in the parties’ willingness to engage” in a peace process.

While Netanyahu did not dismiss Kerry’s advance, he was not enthused by the proposal, according to Israeli diplomatic sources quoted by Haaretz.

The prime minister this fall launched his own push to engage Arab states that are willing to work quietly with Israel as an avenue for coming to a deal with the Palestinians.

The initiative has mostly garnered a chilly reception in the international arena, though Kerry mentioned Netanyahu’s proposal of updating the Arab peace initiative in Cairo on Sunday, on the sidelines of a donor’s conference for the rebuilding of Gaza. Tellingly, Israel was not invited to the conference.

Speaking at the confab, Kerry said that though talks broke down, progress was made and the US was looking for a way forward.

“The truth is that real and significant process was made on substantive issues. Longtime gaps were narrowed and creative ideas were actively being deployed to solve remaining differences,” he said. “We are convinced that … we can actually achieve a lasting peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and all their neighbors.”

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