Kerry to return to Israel after Obama visit to discuss peace talks with Netanyahu
After President Obama departs, the American secretary of state will return to meet with Netanyahu. Kerry's efforts to build a coalition of supportive Arab states have received a chilly response.
After joining President Barack Obama on his two-day visit to Israel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to return on Saturday night, one day after Obama concludes his trip. Kerry is expected to have dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss resuming the peace process with the Palestinians.
Kerry will arrive in Israel on Tuesday evening. Although he is not expected to have any official meetings with high-ranking Israeli officials, he will hold a private dinner at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, though it is unclear whether his guests will be Israeli or Palestinian.
On Wednesday, Kerry will join President Obama for meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah and fly with the president on Friday to meet with Jordan’s King Abullah II. By 9:00 PM on Saturday night, Kerry will be back in Jerusalem for a dinner meeting with Netanyahu.
Kerry was expected to return to Israel at the beginning of April, but decided to take advantage of Obama's visit to start discussions with Netanyahu. Kerry will arrive with Frank Lowenstein, his senior adviser for Middle East affairs, and David Hale, the United States Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, who will be completing his term of service this summer.
According to an Israeli official who met recently with Kerry’s advisers, Kerry does not believe that peace talks should resume over the next six months but that they should be used to build trust and prepare the ground for the possibility of resuming talks.
Kerry wants to hear Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas express their willingness to participate and say what measures they are willing to take to move forward. In particular, Kerry is interested in what Netanyahu is able to do considering the majority of his new coalition is against any political compromise and opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state.
During his visit, Kerry will ask Netanyahu for his opinion on freezing construction in the settlements, releasing Palestinian prisoners and other gestures that could strengthen Abbas. At the same time, Kerry will ask Abbas whether he is willing to promise to stop the unilateral moves in the United Nations and not to go to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The Israeli official added that Kerry would like to form a regional coalition with Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf states to support the resumption of the peace process.
During his visit to the region several weeks ago, Kerry asked his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar and Egypt whether they would be willing to ratify the Arab peace agreement from March 2002 in which the Arab states would promise to establish diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of 1967 borders.
The response was particularly chilly. The Arab foreign ministers told Kerry that the very fact that the Arab peace proposal had not been taken off the table was, for them, a compromise.
Kerry also got the cold shoulder from Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu when he asked for Turkish support in the peace process. Kerry discovered that as far as the Turkish government is concerned, the most important player on the Palestinian field is not President Mahmoud Abbas, but Hamas.