Kerry says negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians might be final chance for peace

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says key issues remain unresolved and important gaps need to be closed in the Iran nuclear talks. (Reuters)
November 8, 2013

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a sharply combative statement here Friday as he entered his third round of talks in three days with Secretary of State John F. Kerry, saying that “pressure has to be put where it belongs: that is on the Palestinians, who refuse to budge.”

“No amount of pressure will make me or the government of Israel compromise on the basic security interests and the national interest of the state of Israel,” Netanyahu told reporters at Ben Gurion Airport, where Kerry stopped on his way to Geneva to participate in nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Kerry, whose shuttle diplomacy also included two meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Thursday that the current talks on a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict might be final chance for the two sides to find lasting peace.

“I believe that if we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis, if we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of de-legitimization of Israel that’s been taking place on an international basis,” Kerry said in a joint Israeli-Palestinian television interview.

“If we don’t resolve the question of settlements and the question of who lives where and how and what rights they have, if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that if we cannot get peace with a leadership that is committed to nonviolence, you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence,” he said.

Kerry met in Amman with King Abdullah II and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh for discussions about the peace talks, as well as Syria and Iran, and had dinner in the Jordanian capital with Abbas, whom he also had met Wednesday in Bethlehem.

At a news conference with Judeh, Kerry said he remains committed to the nine-month deadline that he set when the talks began in July. By March, he said, the Israelis and Palestinians must at least initially address “final status” issues — including dueling Israeli-Palestinian claims to Jerusalem as their capital, security guarantees for Israel and Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory, and the border marking a “two-state solution.”

“An interim agreement, only if it embraces the concept of the final status, might be a step along the way,” Kerry said. “But you cannot just do an interim agreement and pretend you’re dealing with the problem. We’ve been there before. . . . If you leave the main issues hanging out there, mischief makers” will ensure that “bad things will happen.”

“It’s imperative that we keep final status and settle this before it can’t be settled,” he added.

Kerry has staked his legacy as secretary on the peace talks, which have failed many times before. He has made seven trips to the region since March and arrived this week as closed-door negotiations between the two sides seemed to be faltering.

He has described the United States as a facilitator, rather than a participant, in the discussions. A recent round of mutual recriminations and reports that one side or the other had threatened to walk out of the negotiations brought him here to try to put the process back on track.

“We made significant progress in a couple of areas,” Kerry said, declining to elaborate. He said at the beginning of the talks that they would not succeed if negotiators discussed them in public. “Since I’m the one who invoked that rule,” he said, “I’m not going to stand up here and break it.”

In the television interview, Kerry sparred repeatedly with Udi Segal of Israeli Channel 2, who sat alongside Maher Shalabi of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp.

Referring to Netanyahu’s release of dozens of long-term Palestinian prisoners as part of a series of confidence-building measures during the talks, Segal asked, “How do you think a picture of Mahmoud Abbas . . . hugging murderers that killed children 20 or 30 years ago and say that they’re heroes of the Palestinian people — what kind of message do you think this is sent about peace process or peace atmosphere to the Israeli people?

“It’s very difficult,” Kerry responded. “I have no illusions.”

But, he added, using the Arabic term for an uprising: “the alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos. I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?”

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