On Eve of Mideast Visit, Kerry Sets New Target Date for Israeli-Palestinian Progress

John Kerry, who is due to arrive Thursday for fifth Mideast visit as U.S. secretary of state, says sides 'must show some kind of progress' before UN General Assembly convenes in September.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has set a new target date regarding his efforts to renew peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. In a press conference in Kuwait, Kerry said that progress must be made before the United Nations General Assembly convenes in September.

Kerry is due to arrive on Thursday for fifth Mideast visit since becoming U.S. secretary of state, and is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. On Friday, Kerry will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan, and on Saturday evening will return to Jerusalem for another meeting with Netanyahu.

At this point there are no indications that Kerry is nearing a breakthrough that would allow the resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry stressed during the press conference that he does not intent to impose a strict "deadline" to renewing talks, but at the same time he set a general target date for Israel and the Palestinians.

“Long before September we need to be showing some kind of progress in some way because I don’t think we have the luxury of that kind of time," Kerry said. "Time is the enemy of a peace process, “The passage of time allows a vacuum to be filled by people who don’t want things to happen.”

President Abbas has made clear to Kerry in the past several weeks that he intends to give him more time to try and renew negotiations between the sides. The Palestinian president's new target date is September, when the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords will be marked. It is also the month when the UN General Assembly is scheduled to convene, which may allow the Palestinian president to resume unilateral steps. In addition, senior U.S. administration officials told the Associated Press that the White House has given Kerry until the end of September to renew negotiations between the sides.

Meanwhile, ahead of Kerry's visit, a local planning committee on Wednesday has given final approval for the construction of 68 homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. The Palestinians consider the Israeli settlement an obstacle for peace.

"This decision is senseless at any given time, particularly at this timing. It smells of provocation and perhaps this is the proof that Israel doesn’t take Kerry's mission seriously," Meir Margalit, a member of the Jerusalem City Council (Mertz), said in response.

Yariv Oppenheimer, director of the lift-wing NGO Peace Now, described the construction approval as "throwing a bucket of cold water on Kerry's efforts to renew the peace process."

The Jerusalem Municipality said that "the local planning and building committee approved additional steps for construction on privately owned land already approved [for construction] in Beit Hanina, Ras el-Amud and all over the city, for Arabs and Jews alike, regardless of religion, race or sex." The statement noted that the municipality cannot legally interfere with property rights of land owners.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kuwait City on Wednesday, June 26, 2013.Credit: AP

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