John Kerry Struggles To Contain Damage From Israeli Settlement Building

Calls Netanyahu and Abbas on Eve of New Talks

By Reuters

Published August 13, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Secretary of State John Kerry sought on Tuesday to prevent the fracturing of his Middle East peace initiative, which faces its greatest threat to date from a series of Israeli announcements of new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Even as he was making his first visit to South America as secretary of state, Kerry reached out to the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority a day before Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are due to resume in Jerusalem.

Kerry said that in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “we had a very frank and open, direct discussion of settlements.”

The U.S. secretary of state spoke later in the day with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas “is committed to continue to come to this negotiation,” Kerry said, speaking before the two men talked by phone.

While the latest round of talks appears likely to go ahead, Kerry’s diplomatic spadework from the other side of the world underscores the task he has ahead in trying to keep both sides at the table and nudge them toward agreement.

Israel in recent days has announced tenders for or advanced the planning process on about 3,100 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Palestinians claim for their own independent state.

That has led to suggestions from Palestinians that the peace talks, which Kerry announced just last month, may not last long.

“If the Israeli government believes that every week they’re going to cross a red line by settlement activity … what they’re advertising is the unsustainability of the negotiations,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Sunday.

At a news conference in Brasilia with Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, Kerry reiterated that the Obama administration views the settlements as “illegitimate.”

But he also acknowledged that Israel is not going to stop building on lands that many observers believe will be allotted to it in any eventual peace accord.

KERRY SAYS NETANYAHU “COMPLETELY UPFRONT”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu was completely upfront with us and with President Abbas that he would be announcing some additional building that will take place, in places that would not affect the peace map,” Kerry said.

“He has specifically agreed not to disturb what might be the potential for peace going forward,” Kerry said, referring to new Israeli building on lands that most observers agree would be part of a potential Palestinian state.

“We still believe it would be better not to be doing it,” he added, “but there are realities of life in Israel that have to be taken into account here.”

Netanyahu’s coalition government is unlikely to agree to a complete cessation of settlement activity. The Palestinians demanded such a halt in a previous round of talks shepherded by Kerry’s predecessor Hillary Clinton, dooming them to failure.

In late July, Kerry set a nine-month deadline for the peace talks, a timetable designed in part to get the long-time adversaries talking quickly on their core disputes and minimizing the chances that settlements or other disruptions would torpedo the negotiations.

Bowing to a Palestinian condition to get the talks going, and eager not to antagonize an anxious Washington, Netanyahu has agreed to the staggered release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, many convicted of murder.

The first 26 are due to go free early on Wednesday, and political analysts say the recent splurge of settlement moves was a bid by Netanyahu to placate his legion of supporters who reject the so-called two-state solution.

Patriota, Kerry’s Brazilian counterpart, praised the American diplomat’s months of effort to get face-to-face Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. But he also made clear where his government stands on Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“We are against the … settlements,” he said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was headed to the Middle East later this week, the United Nations said on Tuesday. He plans stops in Jordan; the West Bank city of Ramallah, headquarters of the Palestinian Authority; and Jerusalem.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.