U.S. Pressuring Israel at Highest Levels

Kerry Called Netanyahu - Not Israeli Envoy Oren - to Protest West Bank Outposts

American source tells Haaretz that while its report earlier this week of such a conversation was true, the 'high-ranking' recipient of Kerry's disapproval was none other than Israel's PM; Kerry now in Jerusalem for talks with Netanyahu, Livni on peace process.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Thursday to voice protest at Israel's plan to legalize four West Bank outposts slated for demolition, a senior U.S. official told Haaretz.

Haaretz reported earlier this week that Kerry had called Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren after learning of the Israeli decision and requested clarifications, stressing that the move undermines his efforts to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry requested that the government rethink its decision, or at least postpone the legalization of the outposts.

An American source said that while Kerry did indeed have a telephone conversation with a senior Israeli official to express this concern, the recipient of his remarks was of a much higher rank than Haaretz reported. According to this American source, Kerry issued his personal phone call to Prime Minister Netanyahu – not to Ambassador Oren. The Prime Minister's Bureau did not respond to Haaretz's query on the matter.

Kerry, meanwhile, landed in Israel on Thursday and met with Netanyahu for a two-hour morning meeting. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator vis-à-vis the Palestinians, sat in on the meeting as well.

A senior American official in Kerry's entourage said the meeting focused on kick-starting quiet contact between the Israelis and the Palestinians.Feedback and interest in engagement from the key players on both sides is positive. Any rumor that he is putting forward an American plan is false," the official said.

Kerry opened the meeting by praising Netanyahu for his "seriousness" in looking at ways to return to direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

"There have been some very serious meetings, a lot of very serious discussions. I know this region well enough to know that there is skepticism. In some quarters there is cynicism and there are reasons for it. There have been bitter years of disappointment," he said. "It is our hope that by being methodical, careful, patient, but detailed and tenacious, that we can lay out a path ahead that can conceivably surprise people, but certainly exhaust the possibilities of peace. That’s what we’re working towards and I thank the Prime Minister for his serious commitment to this endeavor."

Netanyahu said that the conversation would touch on concerns about Iran and Syria, "above all, what we want to do is to restart the peace talks with the Palestinians. You’ve been working at it a great deal. We’ve been working at it together. It’s something I want, it’s something you want. It’s something I hope the Palestinians want as well and we ought to be successful for a simple reason. When there’s a will, we’ll find a way."

He added that both parties were interested in seeing the political process renewed.

Kerry travels later Thursday to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. This is his fourth trip to the region since embarking on a round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

AP
AFP