x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Hopes rise for Middle East peace talks as Kerry cancels Abu Dhabi trip

Reports of a possible peace summit in Jordan after back-and-forth visits with Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

US secretary of state John Kerry bids farewell Mahmoud Abbas after a meeting in Amman yesterday. Jacquelyn Martin / AFP
US secretary of state John Kerry bids farewell Mahmoud Abbas after a meeting in Amman yesterday. Jacquelyn Martin / AFP
RAMALLAH // John Kerry abruptly cancelled a visit to Abu Dhabi yesterday amid rising expectations of a summit to restart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The US secretary of state met Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, in Amman yesterday for the second time in three days. He was due to fly back to Jerusalem yesterday evening for a third  meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The cancellation of the UAE leg of his global tour triggered speculation that his efforts to rekindle peace negotiations could be bearing fruit. Jordanian media have reported that the summit is expected to take place in Amman.

Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the US state department, apologised to Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, for the cancellation of Mr Kerry's visit.

The secretary of state is on his fifth visit to the region since taking office this year. He has embarked on an ambitious attempt to revive the peace process, which has been frozen since 2010, when a brief round of talks collapsed because Israel refused to stop building settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.

It is not known what, if any, progress has been made on core issues that divide the sides. Mr Abbas demands that Mr Netanyahu halt all construction on settler homes before negotiations can resume.

Some speculate that Mr Netanyahu may be ready to soften his own demands for renewing talks. Last week he emphasised the importance of maintaining Israel's security in the event a peace deal was struck - but he did not repeat his previous demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Mr Abbas refuses to do this, arguing that the Palestinians already formally recognise Israel.

But the Israeli leader has faced tremendous resistance from officials in his pro-settler cabinet, as well as his own Likud party, which is divided over the creation of a Palestinian state.

Labib Kamhawi, an independent political analyst who lives in Amman, said he doubted that Mr Kerry's efforts were paying off. He said the US statesman had focused too much on asking for concessions from Palestinians and Arab states, which had already re-offered their 2002 peace proposal to Israel last month to no avail.

"I think this all looks like an exercise in public relations," he said. "Did Mr Kerry come forward with any proposal in trying to convince both parties to accept? No. He's trying to get them to talk to each other, but the Palestinians don't want to talk because they know nothing will come out of it."

He said Washington needed to directly pressure Israel in terms of granting concessions, although he doubted that would happen.