State Dep’t: Kerry not coming to Israel soon or planning new peace bid
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State Dep’t: Kerry not coming to Israel soon or planning new peace bid

Secretary’s spokesman dismisses Israeli TV report on imminent fresh negotiating effort, calls on ‘both sides to reduce violence’

US Secretary of State John Kerry boards his plane on departure from Ben Gurion International Airport on  January 6, 2014. (photo credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy of Tel Aviv/Flash 90)
US Secretary of State John Kerry boards his plane on departure from Ben Gurion International Airport on January 6, 2014. (photo credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy of Tel Aviv/Flash 90)

The US State Department on Saturday evening flatly dismissed an Israeli television report that claimed US Secretary of State John Kerry will come to Israel in the next few weeks in a new effort to restart a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

The Channel 2 TV report Saturday evening predicted that Kerry would seek to revive some kind of “limited political process,” even though the White House announced last year that it did not believe a permanent accord could be attained in the remaining period of the Obama presidency.

The report also suggested that, in the absence of significant progress, the Obama administration might seek “to impose” some kind of accord in the final months of the Obama presidency — after a new US president has been elected, and before President Barack Obama steps down.

Responding on Twitter to the Times of Israel’s coverage of the Channel 2 report, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the secretary had “no plans… to travel soon to Israel. Also no plan by him to restart talks.”

“Need both sides to reduce violence,” Kirby added in the tweet.

The Channel 2 report appeared to be based, at least in part, on its interview earlier Saturday with opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

Herzog said the Obama administration “hasn’t given up on the [Israeli-Palestinian] process,” and that he believed Kerry “may come here soon” to try again to move things forward. Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union party, met with Kerry in Rome on Tuesday.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby delivering the department's daily press briefing, January 19, 2016. (screen capture/US State Department website)
US State Department spokesman John Kirby. (screen capture/US State Department website)

Herzog said many world leaders were discussing the deadlocked process, and considering ideas, some of which “could be to Israel’s detriment.” Israel could face “decisions from all directions,” he said, noting that last week’s threat by France to recognize a Palestinian state if it fails in its planned new attempt to restart peace talks and reach an accord, “didn’t come out of nowhere.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog on February 3, 2016 (Courtesy)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog on February 3, 2016 (Courtesy)

If Israel didn’t take the initiative, Herzog said, “we’ll have an accord imposed upon us.” He noted that, in the final year of the Obama presidency, the president “can do what he wants.”

Herzog said he wasn’t sure the Americans had yet decided what they want to attempt. But “when you hear that world leaders want to take unilateral decisions,” he said, it underlined the imperative for Israel to “initiate moves that will boost its own security.”

Castigating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as leaders with whom no progress is possible, Herzog warned: “If we don’t separate from the Palestinians… we’ll keep bleeding [from terror attacks] and we’ll end up with a [bi-national] Jewish-Arab state.”

He said he told Kerry to “forget about the delusion that tomorrow you can bring the two sides to a deal.”

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog interviewed on February 6, 2016 (Channel 2 screenshot)
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog interviewed on February 6, 2016 (Channel 2 screenshot)

In Rome on Tuesday, Herzog presented Kerry with a plan for an Israeli pullout from the West Bank, telling him that separation is the only way forward with the Palestinians.

Herzog also suggested to Kerry convening a regional security conference in cooperation with Arab nations before the end of Obama’s term next year.

“Israels are killed in the streets and the world advances surreal initiatives and boycotts. Disengagement is the only path to advance a two-state solution,” Herzog said, according to a statement from his office.

Kerry expressed interest in the plan and said it contained elements similar to his own initiative of advancing security and cooperation in the Middle East, according to the statement.

There was no official statement after the meeting from the State Department or Kerry.

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