US secretary of state John Kerry has wrapped up three days of high-level Middle East diplomacy on a positive note, saying he held “very constructive talks” with Israeli and Palestinian leaders but offering few specifics.
Talking to reporters after holding private talks with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Kerry said the parties all committed to a process that could “create the conditions for peace” so that they can return to the negotiating table.
Kerry said he would soon announce new measures to help the Palestinian economy, but offered no details on how he plans to tackle the deeper issues at the heart of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Kerry stressed that he was mindful of the “good intentions and failed efforts” that have dogged regional diplomacy in the past and said he’d focus on “laying the groundwork so we can bring people to the table with a clear understanding of what we’re beginning on, what we’re trying to do, and where we’re trying to end up.”
Kerry, who has committed the United States to a multi-month diplomatic effort, stressed that he was being intentionally coy on the specifics of his new peace push.
“It’s not going to be done and shouldn’t be done in piecemeal public releases,” he said. “It’s best done quietly.”
Peace talks broke down in late 2008 and have remained frozen since then.
‘This is a real effort’
The Palestinian Authority has refused to resume talks while Israel continues to build illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas where they hope to establish an independent state. Netanyahu says talks should resume without any preconditions.
Kerry sought to lower expectations ahead of this week’s trip, his third to the region since becoming secretary of state, saying he was coming primarily to listen and learn.
In a preliminary step, Kerry said he would try to break down red tape and other barriers to economic progress in the West Bank to improve the lives of Palestinians. He said such an effort would also improve Israel’s security.
The Palestinians, along with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, have long complained that Israeli travel restrictions are stifling the West Bank’s economy.
Netanyahu told reporters earlier Tuesday that he wanted peace. He welcomed proposals for economic assistance to the Palestinians, but said issues of recognition and security remain “foremost in our minds.”
“I’m determined not only to resume the peace process with the Palestinians but to make a serious effort to end this conflict once and for all,” he told reporters before meeting Kerry.
Addressing Kerry, he said, “This is a real effort and we look forward to advance in this effort with you.”
Netanyahu has not signaled how far he is prepared to go in meeting Palestinian demands, but it appears unlikely it will be close to what the Palestinians seek. His new government is full of conservatives affiliated with the Jewish settler movement who will put up a tough fight against any broad concessions to the Palestinians.
Palestinian officials welcomed Kerry’s efforts, and said they had proposed that Israel make additional gestures, such as halting settlement construction and releasing some of the 4,500 Palestinian prisoners it is holding.