JERUSALEM -- On a mission to keep the troubled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on track, Secretary of State John F. Kerry continued his round of meetings with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders Thursday.
Between sessions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah II, Kerry took time to address Israeli and Palestinian audiences as well.
In a session with a pair of Israeli and Palestinian television interviewers -- a rare journalistic collaboration and statement on its own -- Kerry cautioned that the failure of the talks might result in violence. “I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?” he asked.
He warned Israel that it could become increasingly isolated. Without resolving the issue of Israeli settlements and ending the “presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank,” people might give up on the nonviolence track and “you may wind up with a leadership that is committed to violence,” Kerry told Israeli journalist Udi Segal.
Despite Israel’s many settlements throughout the West Bank, Kerry assured Palestinian journalist Maher Shalabi that he was “absolutely certain there is a viable Palestinian state” and that discussion of land swaps -- territory that Israel would give up in return for retaining certain West Bank settlement areas -- are part of what makes negotiations so tough.
The U.S. won’t impose an agreement, Kerry said.
“America suggests, America can help; but the parties, the Israelis and Palestinians, have to negotiate this,” he said, adding that the U.S. does not plan to offer its own peace plan.
“Some days it moves faster, some days it moves slower. Some days you get a little further on some subjects and some days you have an explosion on one issue or another,” Kerry said.
The latest explosion followed Israel’s announcement of plans to build thousands of houses in settlements in the West Bank, which threatened to derail the talks. It was at the height of the dispute that Kerry arrived this week. After meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas twice each so far, he found them both “committed to work at trying a way forward,” he said.
Kerry extended his stay in the region and will return to Israel for yet another meeting with Netanyahu on Friday morning.
Israeli interviewer Segal noted U.S. plans to see Syria give up its chemical weapons, Iran stop its nuclear program and Israelis and Palestinians agree on peace by springtime. “Could it be that you guys are slightly too optimistic?” he asked.
Kerry replied that “the schedule might slip a little here and there, but if you don’t set ambitious targets, you don’t get anything done.”
The interview aired on Palestine TV and Israeli Channel 2 on Thursday evening.
Sobelman is a news assistant in The Times’ Jerusalem bureau.