Kerry back in Middle East for talks with Israeli, Palestinian leaders
JERUSALEM – U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry returned to the Middle East on Thursday for a round of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a continuing effort to help reach a peace deal by spring.
Kerry met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday and was expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday.
The peace negotiations, which resumed during the summer with a May goal for a deal, have seen both sides entrenched in their positions.
Talks are believed to be deadlocked over issues including security demands Israel says must be ensured before any discussion of borders for a Palestinian state. A key sticking point is Israel’s insistence on maintaining a physical military presence in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank.
Netanyahu and Abbas also face internal political criticism over the talks.
In an attempt to help negotiations, retired U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen last week presented the two sides with detailed ideas for security arrangements for the Jordan Valley.
The Palestinians expressed anger at the plan, saying it favors Israel’s security concerns at the expense of Palestinian sovereignty over the future state.
Speaking at the Saban Forum in Washington over the weekend, Kerry said the Jordan Valley arrangements were designed to ensure there’s “no question of the security of Israelis or Palestinians living to the west,” and he emphasized that a final outcome would guarantee Israel’s security and fully respect Palestinian sovereignty.
This is a “critical threading of a needle,” Kerry said.
“I’ve heard all the arguments,” Kerry said at the Saban Forum, referring to the frequently heard Israeli refrain, “We pulled out of Lebanon and Gaza and look what we got, rockets.”
Kerry said, “Yes, we did. But we also didn’t settle any of the issues. Unilateralism is not the answer; we’ve got to resolve the fundamentals of this conflict.”
Kerry’s frequent visits to the Middle East and the Allen plan are part of the U.S. push for an agreement.
The U.S. adopted a much more active role, realizing the talks were “on the verge of collapse,” said Menachem Klein of Bar-Ilan University.
Klein said the U.S. is backtracking from hopes of reaching a comprehensive agreement by May and is pursuing “terms of reference that should have been on the table to begin with.”
“We’re at a crossroads, a deep crisis,” Klein said. “Kerry’s optimism hasn’t caught on.”
Sobelman is a news assistant in The Times’ Jerusalem bureau.
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