In an effort to prevent an American-led peace initiative from collapsing, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Amman on Wednesday to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Kerry will use the meeting to make another stab at convincing Abbas to accept an American framework for extending Israeli-Palestinian talks, which are currently slated to end in late April.
Kerry is accompanying U.S. President Barack Obama on his trip to Europe and Saudi Arabia this week. On Monday, however, he spoke with Abbas by telephone and asked to meet with him immediately after the end of the Arab League summit, which took place on Tuesday in Kuwait. On Wednesday, when Obama goes to Rome to meet the pope, Kerry will fly instead to Amman and spend several hours with Abbas. From Amman he will head to Riyadh, where he will rejoin Obama.
A senior State Department official said that in addition to his meeting with Abbas, Kerry is expected to speak with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, either by phone or by video conference.
Kerry’s meeting with Abbas will take place two days before Israel was originally scheduled to release the last of the four batches of Palestinian prisoners it promised to free during the talks, and a month before the end of the nine months originally allotted for the negotiations. Kerry’s special envoy to the peace process, Martin Indyk, has held intensive discussions with both Jerusalem and Ramallah in recent days in an effort to craft a framework document that will be acceptable to both sides and serve as a basis for extending the talks. At this stage, however, the gaps between the sides remain very wide.
Moreover, Israel no longer plans to release the last group of prisoners on March 28 as originally scheduled. Netanyahu has said he won’t release any more prisoners without a Palestinian commitment not to quit the talks at the end of April and not to resume unilateral steps via United Nations institutions. But Abbas has said he won’t even consider extending the talks if the prisoners aren’t released on schedule, and will instead resume unilateral moves at the UN immediately.
The Americans, who are trying to keep the talks from collapsing, are currently seeking a solution to the prisoner release problem so that they can continue working with both sides on the framework document. The most likely solution at the moment seems to be that the prisoner release will be postponed for a week or two while negotiations over the framework document continue.