On eve of Kerry meeting, PM reaches out to Hebron Jews

Netanyahu set to talk peace process and Iran in Rome on Wednesday, but message to settlers might complicate matters

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

A general view of Hebron with the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Najeh Hashlamoun/Flash90)
A general view of Hebron with the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Najeh Hashlamoun/Flash90)

On the eve of talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter of support Tuesday to the Jewish community in the contested West Bank city of Hebron — where several hundred settlers live in the city of 170,000 Palestinians.

“Our deep connection to Hebron, in permanent and temporary settlement, in the journeys of pilgrims and the longing of worshippers, never stopped and never ceased,” Netanyahu wrote.

“The resumption of Jewish settlement in Hebron after the Six-Day War forged another link in the chain stretching across generations. The adherence of the sons in the ‘city of the fathers’ withstood the test of exile, and proof of this is the renewed and blossoming settlement in Hebron,” the prime minister continued.

“Not for nothing the Israeli government included the Cave of the Patriarchs in its list of national heritage sites.”

Netanyahu’s message came days before the Sabbath during which Jews traditionally read the “Chayei Sarah” Torah portion, which features the story of the Biblical Abraham’s purchase of Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs as a burial ground for his wife Sarah.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu will meet with Kerry to discuss the nuclear talks with Iran and the ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians.

On Tuesday evening, Netanyahu held talks with his Italian counterpart Enrico Letta in Rome.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, arrived in Rome Tuesday, having left Israel after voting in the Jerusalem municipal elections in the morning.

Speaking in Paris on Monday after a meeting with the Arab League, Kerry said talks between Israelis and Palestinians were intensifying and that all core issues were on the table.

Kerry was briefing the 22-member organization on the progress of peace talks, which resumed in July.

“The two parties have been engaged now in 13 meetings — serious meetings. They had three meetings in the last four days,” Kerry told reporters. “All the core issues are on the table. And they have been meeting with increased intensity.”

He also used the opportunity of a joint press conference with the Qatari foreign minister to announce that Qatar was forgiving $150 million in Palestinian Authority debt.

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