Kerry Lands in Israel to Ease Tensions Between Israeli and Palestinian Sides

Despite discord surrounding prisoner release and new settlement plans, negotiating sides assure Kerry they are committed to talks.

The Israeli and Palestinian Authority negotiating teams met for three and a half hours in Jerusalem on Tuesday. The meeting, the sixteenth between the two sides, took place amidst tension caused by the Palestinian objections to settlement expansion and Israeli anger over leaks from the negotiation rooms.

The meeting took place a few hours before United States Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Israel. American envoy to the peace talks Martn Indyk participated in the meeting as well, in an effort to ease the growing tension between the two sides.

A senior Israeli official stated that despite the blame being traded by the two sides over the last few days, both parties made it clear to Indyk and Kerry that they will not leave the table, and that they intend to fulfill their commitment to engage in direct negotiations for nine months.

Head of the Israeli negotiating team, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, tweeted on Tuesday about the leaks from the negotiation rooms. “Chatter about the negotiations has stepped up some,” she wrote. “Someone says something they heard, someone else denies it, and a third person provides analysis. Curiosity builds, but quiet has an important role to play in negotiations.”

Kerry landed in Israel on Tuesday. Immediately upon his arrival, he visited Rabin Square in Tel Aviv and left a wreath on the memorial for the deceased prime minister. During his short visit, Kerry stated that the United States will continue to work toward peace and will continue to stand by Israel every step of the way.

On Thursday morning, Kerry will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the David’s Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, and will then travel to Bethlehem to meet with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. The respective negotiating teams will attend the meetings. Kerry will also meet with President Shimon Peres.

Kerry is expected to encourage the two leaders to continue negotiating and demonstrate more seriousness. Kerry is expected to tell both leaders that if there is no significant progress within two or three months, the United States will propose mediation and American principles for resolving the core issues - borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, water, and settlements.

On Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned that the linkage Israel has created between freeing Palestinian prisoners and approving construction in the settlements is liable to undermine the peace talks.

At a meeting with senior members of his Fatah party in Ramallah, Abbas said there has been no progress in negotiations with Israel and that tensions could increase in the near future.

He said Israel’s announcement of new settlement construction, which coincided with its release of a second batch of Palestinian prisoners last week, was particularly problematic.

The Netanyahu government will be moving forward on the construction of 5,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as part of an effort to appease right-wingers angered by the four-stage release of 104 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners who have been serving jail sentences for terrorism-related offenses committed before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. Twenty-six were freed last week, in the second stage of the release.

Jack Khoury contributed to this report.

Reuters