Can Kerry's visit halt the insults flying between Israeli and Palestinian leaders?

Peace talks are floundering as leaders hurl accusations of duplicity, despite an agreement to keep negotiation details secret.

Jason Reed/AP
US Secretary of State John Kerry greets Palestinian youth who presented him with a gift box at Manger Square in Bethlehem Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013.

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US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel Tuesday on a visit that is widely acknowledged to be about preventing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from seizing up entirely. Recent headlines have doomed the peace talks to the same outcome as past efforts.

"He is trying to give a push,” a senior US official told The New York Times, explaining that the talks have been floundering “both because of short-term irritants and slowness at getting at fundamental issues.”

Israeli and Palestinian leaders are hurling accusations of duplicity and insincerity and seem to have abandoned the agreement to keep the parameters of negotiations secret. Israeli media carried reports with details this week, while leaders on both sides began making public comments on the talks.

"The Palestinians are not conducting the talks in good faith," Gideon Sa'ar, the Israeli interior minister, told Army Radio, according to Reuters. "(The Palestinians) are locked in their positions and are showing no flexibility on their starting positions." Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that "After all the rounds of negotiations there is nothing on the ground."

"I am concerned about the progress because I see the Palestinians continuing with incitement, continuing to create artificial crises, continuing to avoid, run away from the historic decisions that are needed to make a genuine peace," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters today, according to a separate Reuters report.

Israeli Ynet News disclosed on Tuesday the two sides' starting points on borders, as well disagreements between the negotiators. In the Israeli proposal, the border would roughly follow the path of the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank, while the Palestinian team has proposed a border roughly following 1967 lines with land swaps to compensate for Israeli settlements in the West Bank that would be very difficult to remove.

Further fanning cynicism is Israel's announcement this week that it would go ahead with its plans to build 3,500 more homes in the West Bank. The move, which coincided with Israel's release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, is considered a sop to hardliners in Mr. Netanyahu's government.

Nabil Abu Rdeineh, an Abbas spokesman, condemned the settlement campaign but said Palestinians remained committed to the negotiations.

"What's required is a firm American position on Israel's provocations. Israel is continuing its policy of putting obstacles in front of the peace process - every time Kerry comes to the region they announce more settlements." 

Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of reneging on what he said was an agreed prisoners-settlements link.

"If they can't even ... stand beside and behind the agreements that we had, that we release prisoners but we continue building, then how can I see that they'll actually stand by the larger issues?" he said in an interview with the Israel-based i24 television news channel.

Abbas, speaking to his Fatah party on Sunday, voiced opposition to any such linkage, cautioning that "this equation could blow up the talks" and "there could be tensions soon."

A report from The Washington Post details the Israeli right's growing support for a one-state solution, illustrating what Netanyahu is struggling to hold off with one hand while his other reaches out to Palestinians, however begrudgingly.

Leaders of his governing coalition, including those in his party, Likud, "are in revolt against the international community’s long-held consensus that there should be two states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. In the process, they are seeking to overturn the commitments of every US president since Bill Clinton and at least four Israeli prime ministers, including the current one," the Post reports.

Instead of a sovereign Palestinian nation arising in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital — which has been the focus of on-again, off-again peace negotiations since the Oslo Accords in 1993 — the two-state opponents envision Israel annexing large swaths of the West Bank.

...

As for the Palestinians living in the West Bank, depending on the ideas under discussion, the annexationists suggest that they be offered Israeli citizenship or residency or be made the responsibility of Jordan.

“I think we should no longer think of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but Palestinian settlements in Israel,” Danny Danon, deputy defense minister, said in an interview.

Danon, recently elected to head the central committee of the Likud party, imagines an archipelago of Palestinian cities — Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron — as Arab islands in an Israeli sea.

Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said last year that “regardless of the world’s opposition, it’s time to do in Judea and Samaria what we did in [East] Jerusalem and the Golan.”

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