Netanyahu ‘determined’ to move forward with peace process

Netanyahu ‘determined’ to move forward with peace process

But PM and visiting US secretary of state appear to disagree on whether talks should focus on ‘economic components’ or political track

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jerusalem on April 8, 2013 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jerusalem on April 8, 2013 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said he was resolved to attain a final-status agreement with the Palestinians, indicating that he wanted initial steps to focus on the economic sphere.

“I am determined not only to resume the peace process with the Palestinians, but to make a serious effort to end this conflict once and for all,” Netanyahu said during a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Jerusalem for his third visit to Israel since taking office in February. Israel’s attempts to reengage the Palestinian Authority would include “economic components,” Netanyahu said, adding that he welcomed any initiatives that Washington or other parties might have in this regard.

Political issues that will need to be addressed include, first and foremost, Palestinian recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and the imperative for security for Israel’s citizens, the prime minister said.

Kerry, who on Monday night met with Netanyahu, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, International Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, acknowledged that deliberations about how to jumpstart negotiations included “some economic initiative,” but suggested that real progress will only be achieved if both sides are ready for tangible political concessions.

“We want to make it absolutely clear that whatever steps we take with respect to economics are in no way a substitute, but they are in addition to the political track. The political track is first and foremost; other things may happen to supplement it,” he said.

Kerry, who will spend the next weeks and months engaging in shuttle diplomacy between Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah trying to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, said his Jerusalem meeting Monday night was “very productive” and that progress was made. Now Israel and the US have to do “some homework” in trying to assess ways to proceed, he added.

US President Barack Obama, during his visit in March, endorsed Israel’s position in favor of new talks without preconditions. Still, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is understood to be demanding assurances that Israel is prepared in principle to relinquish 100% of the West Bank, with various one-for-one land swaps to enable Israel to keep key settlement blocs. Palestinian sources said Abbas wants to see an Israeli map setting out Netanyahu’s territorial positions up front, which the prime minister refuses to provide, believing it will be seized upon by the Palestinians as the basis for new territorial demands.

Kerry is reportedly considering formulating some kind of American bridging paper to draw the two sides back to the negotiating table.

‘President Obama doesn’t bluff on Iran’

Netanyahu and Kerry, during their Tuesday meeting, also reiterated the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

“I think everybody understands that Iran has been running out the clock, has been using the talks to continue to advance its nuclear program,” Netanyahu said, quoting news reports about Tehran inaugurating new nuclear facilities in the wake of another failed round of negotiations with the West. “I think we also understand what it means for the world to have rogue states with nuclear weapons. Iran cannot be allowed to cross into that world.”

Kerry stated unequivocally that “Iran cannot have and will not have a nuclear weapon.” While the US currently favors a diplomatic solution to the crisis, the negotiation process must not be allowed to go on endlessly, he said.

“It cannot be used as an excuse for other efforts to try to break out with respect to a nuclear weapon,” he said. “But President Obama doesn’t bluff. He’s made that very clear to me.”

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