The United States will take a more active role in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks if the negotiations continue to tread water, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry promised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at their meeting in London 10 days ago.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said a week ago that Abbas received assurances on this matter from Kerry, and on Tuesday a senior Israeli official who was briefed on the Kerry-Abbas conversation, confirmed it. Malki also said Kerry urged Abbas not to despair of the talks’ chances for success.
On Sunday, Kerry met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem to discuss the negotiations. But he declined to make any public statement about them afterward, saying he remains convinced the talks are more likely to succeed if their content is kept private.
On Monday, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Jerusalem for the seventh time since the talks resumed in late July. The Israelis, as usual, declined to comment on the meeting. But despite Kerry’s assertion about the need to maintain privacy, the Palestinians continued their practice of briefing journalists about the details of the meeting and reiterated their claim that the talks are going nowhere.
Both sides have agreed to meet twice a week and to focus initially on borders and security, but there are deep disagreements about everything beyond that. Israel has rejected the Palestinians’ demand that the 1967 lines, with land swaps, be the basis for the talks. Moreover, the Palestinians charged, the Israeli side has merely restated the general principles regarding borders that it presented at talks in Amman in early 2012, and is refusing to present more detailed positions on borders until the issue of security arrangements has been settled.
Palestinian representatives also said Israel wants its army to retain a presence along the Jordan River for many years, while the Palestinians insist that no Israeli soldiers can be allowed to remain on the Palestinian-Jordanian border.
AFP quoted an anonymous senior Palestinian official as saying the talks were in a state of “quiet crisis,” and were liable to explode if Israel didn’t modify its positions.
The senior Israeli official said that so far, American involvement in the talks has been minimal, consisting mainly of getting briefed by both sides before and after each meeting. But he added that U.S. envoy Martin Indyk is frustrated at having participated in only a single negotiating session so far.
The Americans are now looking for ways to break the impasse. According to the Israeli official, Kerry and his aides are considering presenting ideas or bridging proposals of their own.
Next week, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will go to New York to give briefings on the talks to foreign ministers of the Quartet, which is comprised of the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.
A senior American official said in response to Haaretz’s request for comment that “We are not going to get into the details of these meetings. By agreement, Secretary Kerry will be the one to speak publicly on the progress of the talks.”