Kerry leaves Mideast empty handed but with foundation for progress



U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday wrapped up three days of intensive meetings with Israeli and Palestinians leaders without reaching an agreement to restart peace talks.

Kerry arrived Thursday and has since held a series of meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and while progress was made during the meetings, it wasn’t enough to get the two sides to agree to resume negotiations, at least not now.

The visit was Kerry’s fifth since being appointed in February. The U.S. top diplomat has shown a level of commitment to the issue that hasn’t been shown from Washington in a number of years.

Israeli and Palestinian analysts told Xinhua that while it appears that some progress has been made, there are still issues that need to be worked on, predominantly the issue of a new Israeli settlement freeze but also the release of Palestinians convicted of terror attacks held in Israeli jail. SOME POSITIVE SIGNS

Before departing Kerry did say that both parties have shown that they are serious in the efforts to resume negotiations, and that they want him to come back soon.

No official records of the meetings have been released but according to unconfirmed reports in Israeli media, one of the areas where Kerry was able to narrow that gap was on the borders of a future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu has in the past rejected the idea of the ceasefire line that existed prior to the 1967 War, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza, to be the borders of a Palestinian state, he now may have agreed to Kerry issuing a statement saying the 1967 lines would be the basis of the negotiations. In addition, Netanyahu reportedly was willing to release some prisoners.

“Kerry left his team in Israel and Palestine to continue the shuttle trip between Ramallah and Jerusalem, which means that there is something (floating between the two sides),” Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hady, founder of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, told Xinhua.

Abdul Hady added that another sign that things might be moving forward is that Netanyahu once again has promised that any final peace deal would be subject to a national referendum in Israel. ISRAELI DOMESTIC PRESSURE

However, it does appear that while Kerry has been able to make progress in some areas, he still hasn’t been able to convince Abbas to drop his demand for a new freeze, or persuade Netanyahu to formally declare one.

Prof. David Nachmias of the Interdisciplinary-Center in Herzliya, said that given the current setup of the Israeli coalition government, he doesn’t think there is much chance of Netanyahu being able to convince the government to impose another freeze.

“There is a lot of internal pressure within the prime minister’ s Likud party not to give in and to say no to any new ideas. Netanyahu is very vulnerable and has a very tiny coalition so I’m not optimistic.”

“There is a whole bunch of younger people within in the Likud party… that is so much to the right wing than Bibi is,” Nachmias said, using a popular nickname for Netanyahu.

Last week Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, of the Likud, was elected to be the head of the parties governing body, the Central Committee. The elections victory came only a week after Danon made headline after telling the news-site Times of Israel that the current government would block any proposal aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state.

Dr. Yehuda Ben Meir, of Tel Aviv University, said that “the Americans always try to put on a good face on everything, so they are trying to sound optimistic that’s the way they work.”

He added “Kerry said he made a lot of progress and that just a few issues remain, however, the Palestinians said differently that some issues have been advanced but a lot remains so maybe the truth is in the middle.”




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