Despite a pledge to keep details of the talks out of the news media, grumbling from both sides has recently gotten louder and more public. Palestinian officials charge that Israel has refused to consider most agenda items that do not relate directly to Israel’s security. Israeli officials complain that Palestinian demands are unrealistic.
A senior Israeli official said there’s been no real breakthrough in the negotiations. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe some aspects of the discussions.
“The current Israeli negotiating position is the worst in more than 20 years,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top Palestinian official, adding that the talks have yielded “no tangible progress.”
“They want security first, and that the borders of the state of Palestine should be set out according to Israeli security needs that never end and that will undermine the possibility of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state,” Rabbo said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently signaled willingness to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has previously said he is open to it. The session is politically much more risky for Abbas because of widespread skepticism among Palestinians that talks are worthwhile.
The two leaders could meet on their own, but Kerry’s presence would make clear that the United States is holding both sides to a tight timeline he set in the summer — nine months of talks to make a deal to establish an independent Palestinian state by late spring 2014.
That means resolving all the major issues and disagreements, including borders, the rights of Palestinians and their descendants who left land in what is now Israel, the fate of Jerusalem and ways to ensure Israel’s security when it no longer occupies the West Bank.
“The parties have committed to meet in private and keep the substance of the talks confidential,” White House Mideast policy chief Philip Gordon told a Palestinian-American audience in Washington this week. “But I will say this: The core issues — borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees — are all on the table and part of a serious discussion.”
Direct talks between the top leaders are considered by both sides to be the only way a deal could come together. Kerry structured talks so that the leaders could remain offstage for a time, but complaints about a lack of progress may be a sign that top-level talks and a stronger American hand are needed, analysts said.