Trying for Mideast Peace |

Netanyahu to Kerry: Israel Wants to Renew Talks With Palestinians, Above All

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem on Thursday, as part of recent efforts to jump-start Middle East peace talks after more than four years of stagnation.

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

Netanyahu said that the conversation would touch on concerns about Iran and Syria, "but above all what we want to do is restart the peace talks with the Palestinians."

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

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who was named chief negotiator with the Palestinians met with Kerry and with British Foreign Minister William Hague.

In a statement she made after the meetings were concluded, Livni stated that 'the coming days and weeks are critical for the possibility of resuming negotiations with the Palestinians," and noted that the efforts to rekindle the talks should not be shouldered by the U.S. alone, but by Israelis and Palestinians as well.

"It is easy to enter the blame-game, but I suggest to everyone, Palestinians included, to avoid doing so at this time", she said.

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.

The Palestinians initially voiced pessimism about the chances of seeing direct talks resume, but of late have thrown their weight behind the U.S. secretary of state's efforts.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told the UN committee on rights of the Palestinian people earlier this week: "Make no mistake we are exerting every possible effort in order to see that Mr. Kerry succeeds. No one benefits more from the success of Secretary Kerry than Palestinians and no one loses more from his failure than Palestinians," Erekat said.

He said that in the past two months he has met with Kerry three times, that the secretary of state has sat with Abbas five times, and that the three have spoken by phone almost weekly.

Erekat also said the Palestinians had finished preparation to join a raft of international bodies, such as the International Criminal Court, but would not act yet in order to give Kerry and President Barack Obama "a chance" to pursue Middle East peace.

"We want to give a chance to all nations who have a common denominator of achieving two states on the 1967 lines," Erekat said. "There is a chance, there is a good opportunity now."

Kerry visiting a Shawarma restaurant in Ramallah. Thursday, May 23, 2013.Credit: AP
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Thursday, May 23, 2013. Credit: AP