US Secretary John Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's chief negotiator Tzipi Livni met in Jerusalem late Saturday night in an attempt to reach an agreement that would pave the way for a meeting between the Israeli premier and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. However, it appears the road to such a summit is full of obstacles.
An Israeli official who is familiar with the details of the talks told Ynet, "Kerry's return to Israel this evening indicates that something is moving, apparently in a positive direction. He would not have returned otherwise. His main goal at this point is to arrange a meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas."
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Kerry met with Abbas in Amman, Jordan earlier on Saturday before returning to Jerusalem for another round of talks with Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials.
Kerry will make a final statement Sunday afternoon, before leaving Israel. He was originally expected to hold a press conference Sunday morning but this was postponed in wake of a last-minute effort to restart peace negotiations.
Officials in Jerusalem said the Palestinians are insisting that Netanyahu declare of construction freeze in the West Bank settlements, but the Israeli premier is against accepting the request, also due to opposition from members of his cabinet to such a move. Israeli is currently not expanding settlements in the territories, and the US has assured the Palestinians it would not do so in the near future. However, Abbas is not relying on the American commitment and is demanding that Netanyahu issue a statement.
During a recent conversation with a senior minister, the PM said he has no intention of announcing a settlement freeze. "He ruled it out, and his only goal is to resume negotiations without preconditions," the minister said.
Netanyahu (L) opposite Kerry (Photo: Kobi Gideon, GPO)
The Palestinians are also demanding that Israel agree to release prisoners, including some with blood on their hands, as well recognize the 1967 borders as a baseline for negotiations. A senior Israeli official said the government would agree to release prisoners, but not as a condition for resuming negotiations. In addition, Israel will not agree to release all the prisoners the Palestinians are demanding, he said.
Kerry's visit and the latest round of talks did not leave much of an impression on the right wing of the ruling Likud party and on members of Habayit Hayehudi. They object to the demands laid out by the Palestinian as preconditions for negotiations, specifically the claim for releasing prisoners. "The prime minister's stance calling for negotiations with no preconditions is accepted by most Likud party members," said Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, "there is no justification, of course, for releasing terrorists."
Knesset Member Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) said that "the Palestinians need the negotiations more than we do. Setting preconditions to begin negotiations, including releasing prisoners, is a refusal to make progress towards peace." According to him, "agreeing to preconditions will only set the Palestinians in their tough positions and will prevent any future progress."
Fellow party member Ayelet Shaked noted that "the prime minister has repeatedly promised he would not go into negotiations with preconditions and I believe him. If the Palestinians are indeed interested in serious talks, and not in a dirty game aimed at tattle telling to the 'kindergarten teacher' in September, meaning the UN, they should sit and talk. No preconditions were required from (Ariel) Sharon, (Ehud) Barak or (Ehud) Olmert, and there is no reason the situation should change now."
MK Miri Regev (Likud) said that "we should not release terrorist prisoners as a prerequisite for negotiations. We should negotiate with no preconditions; the prisoners belong in jail as determined by the court."
Fellow party member MK Gila Gamliel added that "the demands are ridiculous. The prime minister made clear that Israel will not allow prerequisites and I have no doubt that most Knesset members, even those who see themselves at the center of the political map, would support the prime minister in this. The absurd demands of the Palestinians reveals their intention and clarifies, as always, that there is no partner for negotiation on the other side."
Moran Azulay contributed to this report
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