JERUSALEM : US Secretary of State John Kerry held a second day of talks with Israelis and Palestinians Friday, seeking to overcome deep reservations about a framework to guide negotiations towards a peace deal.
American 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.0
Veteran US 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.
“Prime Minister 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 told reporters 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 US support for its security, Israel and the United States successfully carried out a joint missile test on Friday.
The two nations successfully launched the Arrow-3 anti-ballistic missile system over the Mediterranean, the Israeli defence ministry said. Kerry was meeting again Friday with Netanyahu, after five hours of talks on Thursday following his arrival for his 10th trip as secretary of state.
The top US diplomat was later heading to Ramallah for discussions with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at his headquarters in the occupied West Bank. But Netanyahu on Thursday was downbeat on progress so far, 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,” Netanyahu said.
Referring to Israel’s release of long-serving Palestinian prisoners as part of the talks, the Israeli leader said Abbas had “embraced terrorists as heroes.
To glorify the murderers of innocent women and men as heroes is an outrage”.
But Kerry 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,” he warned, saying however it “would be a significant breakthrough”.
US officials have refused to release any details about the framework, but hope to conclude it soon. It has also not yet decided whether it will be made public, but it is unlikely to be signed by both sides.
Kerry stressed the framework was building on ideas put forward by 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,” said Kerry.
The Palestinians want borders based on the 1967 lines of before the Six-Day War, when Israel captured the West Bank, including now annexed Arab east Jerusalem. But Israel wants to retain existing settlements it has built inside occupied Palestinian territory since then.
Israel also wants to maintain 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.
Warplanes launched a series of strikes on the Gaza Strip early Friday, after a rocket from the Palestinian enclave struck Israel. Gaza is ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement, which is committed to Israel’s destruction and rejects the peace process.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the strike, but Palestinian medics said a 16-year-old shot near the border fence Thursday had died from his wounds.
Kerry’s visit also came as Israeli former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s health was deteriorating, according to the hospital where he has been comatose for eight years.