Kerry shuttles between Jerusalem, Ramallah in effort to relaunch Mideast talks
JERUSALEM —Working against what Palestinians say is an early June deadline to show progress in a renewed bid for Mideast peace, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday he is trying to overcome understandable skepticism after many previous failed attempts.
Kerry shuttled between Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank on his latest visit to coax Israel and the Palestinians back to peace negotiations after a lull that has spanned most of the past four years.
Palestinian leaders are quietly readying plans to pursue statehood claims, and possibly allegations of human rights violations by Israel, if Kerry’s attempt to restart peace talks drags on.
“In some quarters, there is cynicism,” Kerry said before his discussion with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “And there are reasons for it. There have been bitter years of disappointment.”
Kerry is trying to get each side to make gestures of good faith to improve the atmosphere for talks. He has said that he will not dictate a settlement plan. But Israeli and Palestinian officials say he has told them that he wants the United States to play a main role in inaugurating fresh negotiations and solving problems once talks begin.
Two months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shelved plans to seek membership in the International Criminal Court and other organizations. That concession came with a pledge to resume those membership efforts if Israel did not reciprocate with good-faith efforts or if talks didn’t materialize.
Israel is worried that gaining membership will allow the Palestinians to pursue anti-Israeli policies. It got little support, apart from that of the United States, in opposing a Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition last year. The Obama administration tried unsuccessfully to talk Abbas out of seeking recognition.
Kerry’s meeting with Netanyahu began with a bear hug. Opening remarks to reporters ended with Kerry giving Netanyahu a framed picture of the two men dining together. By contrast, Kerry’s meeting in Abbas’ Ramallah headquarters included no public opening remarks.
“Above all, what we want to do is to restart the peace talks with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu told Kerry. “You’ve been working at it a great deal. We’ve been working at it together. It’s something I want. It’s something you want. It’s something I hope the Palestinians want, as well.”
Israeli officials say they are ready to begin talks without preconditions and accuse the Palestinians of dragging their feet. Palestinian officials say their side has already made concessions to prepare the ground for talks.
In Ramallah, Kerry and Abbas met for about 90 minutes with staff members present and then for an hour one-on-one, a senior State Department official said. The official did not say whether Abbas committed to new talks but said the two leaders “discussed their shared commitment to the peace effort and the best path moving forward.”
Kerry outlined some of the economic development plans he has for the West Bank and stressed that they would not take the place of negotiations for a separate, independent Palestinian state, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the confidential sessions.
Kerry also briefed Netanyahu on the package of proposed economic incentives, many of which would require coordination with Israel, another senior State Department official said. Kerry and Netanyahu will meet again Friday morning, the official said.
Kerry is expected to announce details of the private-sector package next week, and possibly a calendar for talks if he can get both sides to agree.
“It is our hope that by being methodical, careful, patient — but detailed and tenacious — that we can lay out a path ahead that could conceivably surprise people,” Kerry said Thursday. His goal, he said, is to “exhaust the possibilities of peace.”
Menachem Klein, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said both sides give Kerry poor reviews in private. “He does not show them that he has a stance that he is ready to put much pressure on the other side,” Klein said.
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Washington Post correspondent Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.