Wrapping up three days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry urged the officials to rise above the daily challenges and keep their eyes on the big picture.
“We can achieve a permanent status agreement that results in two states for two peoples if we stay focused,” Kerry said before departing for Amman, Jordan, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday.
Kerry met twice separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. According to media reports, both sets of talks got off to a rough start.
Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams have met 20 times since talks resumed in July. According to Palestinian negotiators, the gaps have only widened in recent months.
Kerry nodded about the difficulties, conceding that “positions have hardened and mistrust exists at a very high level” as the conflict has dragged on.
So far, there has been no apparent breakthrough in U.S. efforts to secure the parties’ agreement on a framework for continuing the negotiations toward a final peace deal, but Kerry said he was “comfortable that the major choices are on the table” for both leaders.
Kerry likened work on the framework that will define the parameters for negotiating a peace deal to a puzzle. “You can’t separate one piece or another, because what one leader might be willing to compromise on one particular piece is dependent on what the other leader might be willing to do with respect to a different one,” he said.
He couldn’t say when the last pieces would fall into place, or “fall on the floor and leave the puzzle unfinished.”
The core subjects at the heart of the conflict — including Jerusalem, refugees, borders and other deep-seated issues requiring compromise — are those that trigger the fiercest responses from among the peoples, and the toughest political opposition too.
While Israeli and Palestinian politicians accuse the other side of negotiating in bad faith, Kerry commended the leaders for already making “important and courageous decisions.” Acknowledging the internal criticism they both face, Kerry urged them to persist. “This is not the time to get trapped in the ups and downs ... we need to lift our sights and look ahead,” he said.
From Jerusalem, Kerry continued to Jordan to update King Abdullah II. He is also set to visit Saudi Arabia, noting in this context its leader’s authorship of the Arab peace initiative that could offer great promise to the region if Israelis and Palestinians were to reach an agreement.
After Amman and Riyadh, Kerry will return to Jerusalem.
Sobelman is a special correspondent.