Secretary of State John Kerry was in Jerusalem today determined to ram through a Mideast peace deal despite recently spurning Israel on the Iran nuclear deal and pressing forward without the cooperation of half of the Palestinian territories.
Kerry and President Obama are both desperate to make the forging of some peace plan a legacy issue, and Kerry quickly jumped into the task after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who was reportedly critical of Obama’s stance toward Israel — left the post.
Hamas not only dismissed Washington’s fresh push for talks over the summer, but welcomed Kerry by firing at least three rockets from Gaza into Israel over the past five days.
“I know that you’re committed to peace, I know that I’m committed to peace, but unfortunately, given the actions and words of Palestinian leaders, there’s growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in remarks with Kerry at his side before their meeting.
“A few days ago in Ramallah, President Abbas embraced terrorists as heroes. To glorify the murders of innocent women and men as heroes is an outrage. How can President Abbas says – how can he say that he stands against terrorism when he embraces the perpetrators of terrorism and glorifies them as heroes? He can’t stand against terrorists and stand with the terrorists. And I’m wondering what a young Palestinian would think when he sees the leader of the Palestinian people embrace people who axed innocent men and women – axed their heads or blew them up or riddled them with bullets – what’s a young Palestinian supposed to think about the future? What’s he supposed to think about what he should do vis-a-vis Israelis and vis-a-vis the state of Israel?” he continued, referring to the 26 Palestinian prisoners released by Israel as a good-faith gesture toward restarting negotiations.
“So it’s not surprising that in recent weeks Israel has been subjected to a growing wave of terrorist attacks. President Abbas didn’t see fit to condemn these attacks, even after we learned that at least in one case – I stress, at least in one case – those who served and are serving in the Palestinian security forces took part in them.”
Netanyahu continued to pour a reality check on Kerry’s plans, adding that “in the six months since the start of peace negotiations, the Palestinian Authority continues its unabated incitement against the state of Israel.”
“This Palestinian Government incitement is rampant. You see it in the state-controlled media – the government-controlled media – in the schools, in textbooks, in kindergartens. You see it at every part of Palestinian society. So instead of preparing Palestinians for peace, Palestinian leaders are teaching them to hate Israel. This is not the way to achieve peace. President Abbas must lead his people away from terror and incitement, towards reconciliation and peace,” he said.
“I’m determined above all else to defend my people and my state, and I will never compromise on the security of Israel and its citizens and on the vital interests that protect our future,” Netanyahu vowed.
The Israeli government delayed the announcement of bids for new settlement construction until after Kerry leaves the region; the Obama administration hotly opposes any new settlement construction, and the Palestinians have threatened to take the construction to the International Criminal Court.
Kerry acknowledged “that there are many who are skeptical of whether or not the two parties can achieve peace. But I will tell you that I have personally learned something about the power of reconciliation.”
“In 1967, there was a war, and Jordan was on the other side of that war, and land very close to the hotel I stay in was the dividing line, and Jordan was on the other side of that line. Today, Jordan has made peace and is a partner in an effort to try to change things and move forward and be constructive,” Kerry continued. “On a personal level, last month I traveled to Vietnam on my first visit there as Secretary of State. And the transformation in our relationship – I was a young soldier who fought there – the transformation in our relationship is proof that as painful as the past can be, through hard work of diplomacy history’s adversaries can actually become partners for a new day and history’s challenges can become opportunities for a new age.”
As far as Israel’s security, he claimed “I know what it’s like to live in Israel with, once upon a time, Katyusha rockets coming to Kiryat Shmona, or rockets from Gaza coming into Sderot.”
“I understand it. Every time I visit, those concerns are part of my consideration, and that is why President Obama and I remain deeply committed to ensuring that as a result of peace, Israel and Israelis feel more secure, not less. That’s our objective,” he said.
“We are now five full months into this negotiation. We have always known that achieving peace is a long and complicated process. It’s a tough road. But this is not mission impossible… My role is not to impose American ideas on either side but to facilitate the parties’ own efforts. An agreed framework would clarify and bridge the gaps between the parties so that they can move towards a final peace treaty that would resolve all of those core issues.”
A senior State Department official speaking on background about the negotiations told reporters that Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners in four stages and the Palestinians agreed to not take their status case to the UN or ICC. “Settlement activity or restraint from settlement activity was not part of that agreement to resume negotiations. That said, to state the obvious, the settlement activity that has been going on has created a lot of questions on the Palestinian side and in the international community about the intentions of the Government of Israel. And it’s both the building and the planning that creates a great deal of heartburn,” the official said.
The official said Kerry “has a real sense of urgency, a real sense of need to strike while the iron is hot.”
“He has a need for speed and he has a sense of urgency. It was all we could do to keep him on holidays and not have him come out here at Christmas,” the official added, describing an agreed framework from the talks as a “poetic image of Secretary Kerry climbing the mountain with these two leaders and reaching the summit where they would look down on the valley of peace and see what it actually looked like in terms of defining the end state of the two-state solution.”