United States Secretary of State John Kerry has urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make “tough choices” to reach a peace agreement, saying he made progress during his tenth visit to the region in the past 12 months.
Kerry said that any peace plan he devised would be “fair and balanced” and likened his efforts to a “mosaic” on Sunday, ending three days of shuttle diplomacy between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“In the end all of these core issues fit together like a mosaic, like a puzzle and you can’t separate out one piece or another,” Kerry said in Jerusalem on Sunday before flying to Amman, and later Saudi Arabia, seeking backing for his proposals.
“We are now at a point where the choices narrow down, and the choices are obviously real and difficult,” Kerry said.
US-brokered peace talks began in July after a three-year deadlock, and an initial deadline to reach an agreement has been set for April. The deal must address several core issues in the conflict, including borders, security, the status of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Israeli and Palestinian officials have both said the emerging US proposals appear to favour the other side.
A Palestinian official confirmed to AP news agency that Kerry asked Abbas to recognise Israel as the Jewish homeland during his latest meetings with the Palestinian leader.
Abbas has repeatedly rejected this Israeli demand, saying it would compromise the rights of Palestinian refugees and Israel’s Palestinian citizens.
“Opposition to recognising the Jewish state and our right to be here is continuing,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday. “I reiterate that in my view, this is the root of both the conflict and the incitement, the non-recognition of this basic fact.”
An Israeli minister also said on Sunday that Israel rejects any security concessions for the Jordan Valley, an area constituting about 30 percent of the occupied West Bank that borders Jordan.
“Security must remain in our hands. Anyone who proposes a solution in the Jordan Valley by deploying an international force, Palestinian police or technological means… does not understand the Middle East,” Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s intelligence minister, said.
The comments came after a Palestinian source said Washington was proposing a mixed Israeli-Palestinian military presence to ensure security in the area, without setting a deadline for Israeli troops to withdraw.
Meanwhile, far-right members of Israel’s governing coalition threatened to topple the government if Netanyahu caves to Palestinian territorial demands.
Palestinians want to create a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and have condemned Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.
The far-right, pro-settlement Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party threatened to pull out of the coalition if Netanyahu accepts the 1967 borders as the baseline for talks.