US Secretary of State John Kerry is back in the Middle East as part of efforts to move along peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. However, there appears to be little hope of a breakthrough.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (pictured l. above) on Friday started his second day of talks with Israelis and Palestinians in a bid to find a firm basis for peace negotiations.
The first meeting on the agenda was with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Jerusalem. Later, Kerry was to head to Ramallah in the West Bank for discussions with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas.
Washington's top diplomat told reporters shortly after arriving in Jerusalem on Thursday that he planned to use his current trip to the region to try to convince Israel and the Palestinians to agree to a framework deal that would provide "defined parameters" to guide the two sides down the road to an overall peace agreement.
The framework included "all the core issues which we are addressing since day one, including borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual recognition and the end of conflict and of all claims," Kerry said at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured r. above) on Thursday.
Netanyahu, though, expressed skepticism about the US secretary of state's chances for success.
"There is growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace," Netanyahu said, while at the same time accusing Palestinian officials of orchestrating a campaign of "rampant" incitement.
Specifically, he criticized Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for welcoming home a group of 26 Palestinian prisoners Israel released from jail early on Tuesday as part of a US-brokered package that persuaded him to restart stalled peace talks.
"To glorify the murders of innocent women and men as heroes is an outrage. How can he say that he stands against terrorism when he embraces the perpetrators of terrorism and glorifies them as heroes?" he asked.
There was no immediate reaction to the accusation from Abbas himself, but the Associated Press news agency cited Palestinian official Wasil Abu Yousif, who rejected Netanyahu's criticism outright.
"We, the Palestinians, are under the Israeli occupation. Israel is taking our land and giving it to Jewish settlers," Yousif said. "This is the only reason we don't have peace here. Netanyahu is trying to divert the attention from the real reason to a fake one."
Settlement announcement postponed
Meanwhile, Israeli media reported on Thursday that Netanyahu planned to postpone an expected announcement of the construction of about 1,400 new settler homes until Sunday, after Kerry leaves. Both previous prisoner releases since peace talks restarted back in July had coincided with announcements of the construction of new Jewish settler homes on land the Palestinians want as part of a future state.
Despite reservations on both sides, Kerry took great pains to try to appear optimistic about the prospects for peace.
"We have always known that achieving peace is a long and complicated process. It's a tough road. But this is not mission impossible," Kerry said. He also reiterated Washington's commitment to Israel's security.
This is Kerry's 10th visit to the region in pursuit of Mideast peace since he was appointed to the job almost a year ago.
tj,pfd/jlw (dpa, AP, Reuters)