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Kerry tries to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

June 28, 2013|By Batsheva Sobelman
  • Secretary of State John F. Kerry, right, meets with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, right, meets with Israeli President Shimon… (Jacquelyn Martin / AFP/Getty…)

JERUSALEM -- Secretary of State John F. Kerry traveled from meeting to meeting Friday as he sought to jump-start the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks during his fifth visit to the region since taking office in February.

Kerry, who arrived in Israel on Thursday evening, has said little in public but has spent most of his time talking to leaders on both sides in private. The mission so far appears intense and discreet.

Over a 24-hour period, Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, Jordan, and then returned to Jerusalem for a second meeting with Netanyahu, as well as Israeli President Shimon Peres.

"Israel appreciates your efforts to renew negotiations," Peres told the secretary of State on Friday evening, adding that there exists "a clear majority for the two-state solution" among Israelis.

Speaking in Kuwait this week, Kerry said urgent progress is needed as "time is the enemy of a peace process."

Kerry is striving to break a three-year stalemate in the talks and renew negotiations for a two-state solution, possibly by holding a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu.

Although both leaders repeatedly declare support of Kerry's efforts and the two-state solution, there are numerous obstacles.

Two issues serve as the main immediate sticking points: declaring Israel's borders before the 1967 Middle East War as the basis for the negotiations and freezing expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which Israel seized during that war. The Israelis reject these as preconditions, while Palestinians see them as basic terms of reference for the talks and obligations under international law.

With little information leaking from Kerry's talks, backstage buzz abounds and Israeli media suggest the sides are inching closer, with Abbas reportedly relaxing some points as Netanyahu considers a partial moratorium on settlement construction and confidence building measures such as releasing prisoners.

Barak Ravid, a writer with the newspaper Haaretz, has called Kerry's shuttle diplomacy "diplo-therapy" and likened it to marital counseling. "Kerry has gotten Netanyahu and Abbas to trust him, but is having difficulty getting them to trust each other," Ravid wrote.

Kerry will continue his mission Saturday, reportedly holding another meeting with Abbas in Amman and possibly another with Netanyahu in the evening.

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