Expectations for John Kerry's latest visit in Israel are markedly low as the US secretary of state makes a desperate attempt to salvage stagnant peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli state officials described the visit as "another futile attempt" while the Palestinians asserted it was a last chance to save the peace talks before a chance for a two-state solution is permanently lost.
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Accompanied by General John Allen, Kerry will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday followed by meetings with ministers Tzipi Livni and Moshe Ya'alon. It is expected he will try to breathe new life into the negotiations and resolve several security issues relating to Israel's demand to keep an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley.
Israel is accusing the Palestinians of making excuses and threats and focusing too heavily on the settlement construction issue. "Contrary to reports, Israel will not hand over any lands to the Palestinian Authority and will not withdraw its security demands," one state official said. "We do not see good faith in the Palestinian side, not on recognition, not on the refugee issue, and not on the end of the conflict."
Commitments to America
Israel is preparing for the option that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will try to cause a break down in negotiations after the release of the Palestinian prisoners. "One gets a sense that's all he cares about," a state official said. "But Israel is not changing course. As long as there are talks we will meet our commitments to the Americans."
Nevertheless, sources close to Netanyahu raised the possibility that the next round of prisoners release would not go as smoothly as in the previous two had. "Nothing is set," the source said. "I'm not saying there won't be a release but I'm emphasizing that it's not a done deal yet and this warrants attention."
While negotiations are still ongoing, tensions are causing the talks to proceed at a very low pace. Recent reports suggest that the State Department is working on an American memorandum that will address all core issues.
On the Palestinian side, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said, "Mr. Kerry must work to save the talks, to work to stop the deterioration of the talks caused by Israel's continuing settlement activity and crimes committed in cold blood."
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York and told him that the Palestinian approach jeopardizes changes for real progress and that they are planning to act unilaterally by seeking recognition from 16 UN-affiliated bodies.
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