U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry concluded his visit to Israel on Friday noon, leaving behind what seems to be unbridgeble gaps between Israel and the Palestinians amid the faltering peace talks.
During his three-day visit, Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, and a short cordial meeting with Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Friday morning.
Kerry came to salvage talks from their deteriorating state, backed by a new plan with proposals on security arrangements in the West Bank.
However, it seems that the gaps are still very big between both Israel and the Palestinians, and Palestinian President Mamoud Abbas rejected the plan altogether, leaving little hope for progress in the next several months until May, the deadline set by the U.S. for this stage of the talks.
An Israeli official told Xinhua on Friday that it seems all sides are getting more skeptic about the future of the peace talks. “There are still big gaps between us and the Palestinians,” adding “and I doubt Kerry’s visit could change that.”
Regarding the supposed security-arrangements plan to both Netanyahu and Abbas, the official said that “it caters to most of our demands, but the Palestinians, as I gather, rejected it,” the official said.
According to the official, among others, the plan adopts Israel ‘s demand to have its security forces present at the Jordanian border, at the eastern part of the West Bank.
The negotiations, which resumed in July after a three-year halt in diplomacy, came to a halt, according to the Palestinians, due to Israel’s ongoing construction of thousands of housing units in the West Bank and east Jerusalem settlements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on his part, defended most of the construction announcement, saying that the Palestinians are creating artificial crises and dragging their feet in the negotiations.
He said that since Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian Prisoners in August as a gesture to the Palestinians, there is not problem with Israel’s construction in the settlements. The construction announcement accompanied the waves of prisoners release, to satisfy the far right Jewish Home ministers who opposed it.
Netanyahu did, however, order Housing Minister Uri Ariel ( Jewish Home) to cancel plans for more than 20,000 housing units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank earlier this month.
In addition, Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator, had said that the settlements construction cannot go on indefinitely if progress is to be made in the peace talks.
Regarding the security issues, Israel insists on maintaining security forces in the Jordanian border, space control over the West Bank and Israeli security posts at several spots in the area.
According to the Israeli Channel 10 news, the plan also calls for “Greater Jerusalem” to be the host of both capitals of the two states, thus allowing the Palestinians to determine their capital in east Jerusalem, which was annexed and added to the municipality following the 1967 Mideast War.
The Secretary of State’s visit also included reassurances to the Israeli Prime Minister that the U.S. will have Israel’s security interests in mind, while working out the final agreement with the Iranians regarding their nuclear plan.
While Netanyahu and Kerry showcased a warm relationship unaffected by recent developments, including the signing of the interim agreement with Iran in Geneva, sources in Jerusalem said that there are still big differences and a definite strain in relations between Israel and the U.S.
Kerry is set to meet next week with Israel’s hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday, who is on his first official visit to the U.S. since resuming his post in the ministry a month ago, after being cleared of suspicions of fraud and breach of trust.
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