x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Kerry warns of violence should Israeli and Palestinian talks fail

US secretary of state in frantic bid to get peace negotiations back on track amid rising public anger among Palestinians over Israeli settlement building and among Israelis over the release of Palestinian prisoners.

AMMAN // US Secretary of State John Kerry warned yesterday of a return to violence if peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians fail.

He also rejected suggestions that he scale back his ambition to forge a final settlement with an interim agreement and said he still believed it could be done by an April 2014 target date.

Mr Kerry has been shuffling this week between Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan in a frantic bid to get the peace negotiations back on track amid rising public anger among Palestinians over Israeli settlement building and among Israelis over the release of Palestinian prisoners.

“What is the alternative to peace?” Mr Kerry said at a joint news conference with Nasser Judeh, Jordan’s foreign minister. “Prolonged continued conflict. The absence of peace really means you have a sort of low-grade conflict, war.”

“As long as the aspirations of people are held down one way or another ... as long as there is this conflict and if the conflict frustrates once again so that people cannot find a solution, the possibilities of violence” increase, he said.

Mr Kerry appealed for Israelis and Palestinians to take the peace process seriously and for their leaders to overcome differences that have hamstrung the talks since they began three months ago with the goal of reaching a deal by the end of April, 2014. He acknowledged the hurdles, but said he was convinced that both Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, were committed to the negotiations

“I am pleased to say that despite difficulties, and we all understand what they are, these discussions have been productive,” he said.

“Both prime minister Netanyahu and President Abbas reaffirmed their commitment to these negotiations despite the fact that at moments there are obviously tensions over one happening or another or one place or another, whether it is in Israel or the territories,” Mr Kerry said.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Kerry told Jordan’s King Abdullah II that his meetings had “created some clarity on some of the points”.

He did not elaborate, but said at the news conference with Mr Judeh that there was “significant progress in our discussions about a couple of areas of concern in the panorama of concerns that exist”.

King Abdullah said final status talks involve “higher Jordanian interest”, mainly a common border with a future Palestinian state, the fate of Jordan-based Palestinian refugees displaced in the 1967 war and Jerusalem, where the kingdom maintains custody over Christian and Muslim holy sites.

The king also called on the international community to help end “Israeli unilateral actions in the occupied Palestinian territories because they are illegal, illegitimate and constitute a real obstacle to peace efforts”.

Mr Kerry was to see Mr Abbas again last night in Amman and then return to Jerusalem today for a third meeting with Mr Netanyahu in two days before continuing with his swing through the Middle East and North Africa in the UAE, Algeria and Morocco.

Mr Kerry brokered the restart of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which began three months ago. But little progress has been made.

The secretary has been hit with complaints from both sides during his trip while working to maintain an optimistic tone. On Wednesday he noted that in any negotiation “there will be moments of up and moments of down”.

Tensions have been running high after Palestinians said a secret negotiating session on Tuesday broke down in a dispute over Israeli settlement construction.

Associated Press