RAMALLAH: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Thursday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in yet another attempt at promoting the elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Kerry arrived at the presidential office in the early evening, slightly late, as extreme weather – including snow storms – swept across Israel and Palestine, an AFP correspondent said.
The meeting ended nearly two and a half hours later, a State Department official said, without providing any further details.
The top U.S. diplomat is scheduled Friday to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres before continuing to Jordan. It is his ninth trip to Israel and the West Bank since March, and his second in less than a week.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said earlier this week the U.S. aim was “focused on a final deal” rather than an interim agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Nine-month direct talks were launched between the sides by Kerry in July.
Last week, he said “we are closer than we have been in years” to reaching a peace deal.
But Palestinians said Kerry’s ideas on future security arrangements, which were presented to the Palestinian leadership last week, had provoked a “real crisis.”
Kerry’s Dec. 11-18 trip will also take him on to Vietnam, where he fought as a naval lieutenant in the Vietnam War, and the Philippines.
Jordan’s royal palace, meanwhile, said King Abdullah II and Abbas spoke by telephone Thursday to reaffirm their support for the top U.S. diplomat’s peace efforts.
Kerry met Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat in Washington Monday for three-hour trilateral talks.
But earlier Thursday, Livni accused a key Israeli coalition partner of deliberately seeking to sabotage the talks by ramping up settlement construction.
Speaking just hours before Kerry’s arrival, Livni accused the far-right national religious Jewish Home of deliberately promoting settlement projects in a bid “to derail” the negotiations. “More building, more announcements of building in isolated settlements are meant to prevent us reaching peace,” she told an audience at Tel Aviv University in remarks broadcast on public radio.“That is their deliberate intention, to derail the negotiations. To cause the other side to walk out of the room,” she said.
Jewish Home controls the Housing Ministry, giving it a key role in promoting Israeli construction on land the Palestinians want for a future state.
As he seeks to keep the Palestinians and Israelis on track to reach a deal within the tight nine-month deadline, Kerry reiterated warnings late Wednesday that the status quo was unsustainable.
“I’ve heard all the arguments from all the pundits on all sides,” Kerry told an event in Washington organized by Foreign Policy magazine.
“The conflict is too frozen. It’s too complicated. They don’t trust each other enough. There’s no way possible that there are the ingredients to try to make peace,” he said.
“It’s a fool’s errand to believe that the future could be better than the past. President [Barack] Obama and I reject that cynicism,” the online magazine quoted him as saying.
But after initial optimism following the relaunch of direct negotiations in July following a three-year hiatus, hopes are now beginning to fade.
The proposals focus on security arrangements in the Jordan Valley down the eastern flank of the West Bank, with commentators saying it would allow Israel to maintain a long-term military presence there.
But the State Department’s Psaki stressed: “This is not a ‘here’s a plan, please ask for an up or down.’ This is an ongoing discussion.”