OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was Friday locked in intense talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, seeking to overcome deep-seated fears about a framework to guide negotiations toward a peace deal.
U.S. officials have privately said they believe the direct talks resumed in July after a three-year hiatus have reached a new phase, as a late April deadline for an accord looms, but are struggling to overcome fierce opposition from both sides.
Veteran U.S. Senator John McCain, who is also visiting Israel with a congressional delegation, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had Friday voiced deep concerns in separate “detailed” discussions about the proposals being put forward by Kerry.
“Netanyahu has serious, serious concerns about the plan as has been presented to him, whether it be on the ability of Israel to defend its borders or the reliability of a Palestinian state and their intentions,” McCain said in Jerusalem.
Israelis were also particularly concerned about “their overall security, whether it be boundaries, whether it be areas under Palestinian control,” he added.
Perhaps in a move to allay some of the Jewish state’s fears about U.S. support for its security, Israel and the United States successfully carried out a joint missile test Friday.
The two nations launched the Arrow-3 anti-ballistic missile system over the Mediterranean, the Israeli Defense Ministry said.
After three hours of talks Friday with Netanyahu following an eight-hour discussion and dinner Thursday, Kerry traveled to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hours before Kerry was due to meet Abbas, a crowd of several hundred took to the streets of Ramallah, the West Bank’s de facto capital, chanting “Kerry, you coward, there’s no place for you in Palestine!”
Around 300 activists with the left-wing Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine party rallied in downtown Ramallah.
“The people want the fall of the framework!” they chanted, evoking the chants heard in protests throughout the Middle East in 2011. “It’s clear, Kerry, we don’t want to see you! The Americans are the enemy of our people!” they added.
Dozens of riot policemen and plainclothes security forces prevented their march from reaching Ramallah’s presidential compound, where Abbas was expected to receive Kerry.
Separately, an official close to Abbas dismissed Kerry’s drive for a “framework agreement” as biased toward Israel.
Kerry has said such an accord would narrow gaps between the sides and pave the way for the final deal in April.
But Yasser Abed Rabbo, Abbas’ deputy in the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the plan, still being finalized, “restricts Palestinian sovereignty on Palestinian land.”
“The Palestinian side will not even look at a worthless piece of paper, a framework agreement, which contains general principles for later negotiations, when the two sides have already been negotiating for months and years,” Abed Rabbo said in a statement published in the Al-Ayyam newspaper Friday.
Netanyahu Thursday had been pessimistic, launching a scathing attack on Abbas.
“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,” he said.
Referring to Israel’s release of long-serving Palestinian prisoners as part of the talks, Netanyahu said Abbas had “embraced terrorists as heroes. To glorify the murderers of innocent women and men as heroes is an outrage.”
Kerry Thursday vowed the United States was committed to working with both sides “to narrow the differences on a framework that will provide the agreed guidelines for permanent status negotiations.”
“This will take time and it will take compromise from both sides.”
U.S. officials have refused to release any details about the framework, but hope to conclude it soon.
It has also not yet been decided whether the document will be made public, but it is unlikely to be signed by both sides.
Kerry stressed the framework was building on ideas from both sides over five months of talks, and would set out the agreements and disagreements on the core issues.
These include the contours of a future Palestinian state, refugees, the fate of Jerusalem, security, “mutual recognition and the end of conflict and of all claims,” Kerry said.
The Palestinians want borders based on the lines before the 1967 War, when Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
But Israel wants to retain existing settlements it has built inside occupied Palestinian territory since then.
Israel also wants to keep a military presence in the Jordan Valley, where the West Bank borders Jordan.
The Palestinians have insisted there be no Israeli troops in their future state, but are open to the idea of an international force to guarantee security.