|Follow us on:|
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel Thursday in a determined bid to kickstart stalled peace talks with the Palestinians amid fears Tel Aviv is about to announce new settlement expansion plans.
Hoping to convince both sides to adopt a US proposal for final status talks, Kerry met first with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; he is to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday.
But the Secretary of State is likely to face an uphill battle to convince both parties to trust each other. Netanyahu told Kerry that he is committed to peace but harshly criticised Abbas for “embracing terrorists”.
Earlier in the week, Abbas greeted Palestinian prisoners who had been in Israeli jails for decades and were released as part of an agreement brokered by Kerry in mid-2013.
In June, Kerry began a concerted effort to get both sides to resume talks that had been halted since 2010 over Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians recognize as the capital of their future state.
In late July, an agreement was reached for Israel to release 104 long-serving prisoners in exchange for the Palestinians dropping the pre-condition that Israel halt settlement-building and expansion before they return to the negotiating table.
Israel released the first 26 prisoners on December 31.
But in a move that could dampen hopes for the talks to make any progress, Israel earlier in the week said it would soon formally announce the building of some 1,400 new settlement homes on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
It later postponed the announcement.
Kerry acknowledged that there are numerous obstacles to overcome.
“It’s a tough road,” he said, “but this is not mission impossible.”
Kerry’s current diplomatic visit is his ninth to the region since he became secretary of state.