Michael R. Gordon
JERUSALEM: Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel on Friday for an intensive series of meetings with Israel’s leaders as the pace of discussions about reviving the Israel-Palestinian peace talks heated up.
In what has become an exercise in shuttle diplomacy, Kerry began his day in Amman, Jordan, where he held a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. A State Department official described that meeting, which included a lengthy one-on-one discussion, as “very constructive.”
Kerry then flew by Jordanian helicopter to Jerusalem, where he met Friday afternoon with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Kerry met later with Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, and stayed for Sabbath dinner.
It was Kerry’s second visit to Israel in less than 24 hours. On Thursday, Kerry drove in a motorcade from Amman to Jerusalem, where he met for more than four hours with Netanyahu before driving back.
A State Department official described that meeting, which ended at 1:25 a.m., as “a productive, in-depth and wide-ranging conversation about the importance of moving forward on the peace process.”
Kerry has made clear that his goal is to make headway toward resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks well before September when the U.N. General Assembly will once again debate the Middle East.
U.S. officials have also stressed that the strategy is not just to begin new talks but to position the negotiations to make progress on core issues like borders and security arrangements for Israel on the West Bank that have proved to be formidable barriers in the past.
Direct talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders were last held in 2010. Their resumption has been hampered by the Israeli rejection of Abbas’ demand that the Israelis freeze new settlement construction as a precondition; the gulf between the two sides on Israel’s insistence on maintaining a lengthy security presence on West Bank territory that is returned to the Palestinians; and the status of Jerusalem, among other issues.
Kerry has said little about the details of his discussions with Israeli and Arab leaders, but it is clear that he is trying to sidestep a lengthy negotiation over preconditions for resuming talks.
“So soon,” Kerry said with a smile as he shook hands with Netanyahu.