Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to intensify the talks, Kerry said Wednesday, adding that the U.S. role would also expand. He gave no details but said the willingness to deepen the dialogue arose from his discussions last week in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and this week with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“We have agreed now to intensify these talks,” Kerry said at the United Nations. “And we have agreed that the American participation should be increased somewhat in order to try to help facilitate” discussions.
Kerry and other U.S. officials have spent weeks trying to ensure that the annual U.N. meeting would not become a forum for either side to undermine the fragile new talks, or for the Palestinian threat to seek further statehood credentials through the United Nations instead of through negotiations with Israel.
Abbas rebuffed the Obama administration last fall and pressed ahead with an initial attempt to bolster statehood credentials at the United Nations. More than 130 countries voted to give the Palestinians the status of an observer state, despite weeks of U.S. entreaties to allies and partners to vote no. The status is short of full membership, but it nonetheless underscored Palestinian frustration with stalled negotiations and continued Israeli settlement-building.
“I remain deeply committed, and the United States remains deeply committed, to bringing about a just and lasting peace to a conflict that has been going on too long,” Obama said before meeting with Abbas on Tuesday.
Obama praised Abbas for rejecting violence and pursuing peace, and he gave the rough outlines of the U.S. position on an acceptable deal.
“The border of Israel and Palestine should be based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed-to swaps,” Obama said, referring to territorial lines that existed before the 1967 Israeli-Arab war and the expectation that each side would alter those lines to accommodate some Israeli settlements and other developments.
The United States wants to see that “secure and recognized borders are established for both states with robust security provisions so that Israel retains the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threats,” Obama said.
Neither he nor Abbas said a word about the substance of talks that began over the summer and were expected to tackle major issues such as borders and Israeli security early on. Kerry has set an unofficial deadline of next spring to finish a deal.
Negotiators for each side have held several sessions, usually with American envoy Martin Indyk alongside. The U.S. role has been described as a go-between and prod to keep both sides at the table, but Indyk is also expected to offer U.S. proposals to bridge some of the toughest disagreements.