Kerry & Netanyahu met Saturday evening to restart peace talks

US Secretary of State met with Abbas & then Netanyahu to seek common ground to resume stalled peace talks.

Local poll shows Obama’s ‘charm offensive’ effective: 39% say they  feel better about the US president.



After the pomp and ceremony of US President Barack Obama’s three day trip to the region, US Secretary of State John Kerry began nitty-gritty efforts at re-starting talks between Israel and the Palestinians with a late night meeting Saturday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

US Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, March 23, 2013. Photo Amos Ben-Gershom-GPO

US Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, March 23, 2013.- Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom-GPO

Kerry, who arrived in the region last Tuesday, accompanied Obama during his two days in Jerusalem and Ramallah, and also went with him Friday to Jordan. As Obama left Jordan Saturday to return to Washington, Kerry returned to Jerusalem.

Indicating that the meeting focused on the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu was joined in his talks with Kerry by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, his minister in charge of talks with the Palestinians; Yitzhak Molcho, Netanyahu’s envoy on the Palestinian issue; and National Security Council head Ya’akov Amidror.

One government official said that Israel’s message to Kerry would be that the diplomatic process would only succeed if “it is a two way street.”

“If only one side – the Israeli side – is asked to be flexible, then it won’t work,” the official said. “It is crucial that this be a two way street, and both sides move together. It cannot be that only Israel is expected to take steps. We are prepared to move forward together with the Palestinians.”

Obama, at a press conference in Jordan with King Abdullah II on Friday, said his immediate hope was that “we can explore with the parties a mechanism for them to sit back down, to get rid of some of the old assumptions, to think in new ways and to get this done.”

During his speech Thursday to Israeli students in Jerusalem, Obama reiterated that the US remained strongly committed to working for a two-state solution, and urged the Israeli public to push its leaders forward toward that same goal.

Earlier, at a press conference in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he stressed that in order for the sides to move forward, everyone is “going to have to get out of some of the formulas and habits that blocked progress for so long. Both sides are going to have to think anew.”

Obama, who said he “absolutely believes” peace is still possible, said that it was difficult because “sometimes, even though we know what compromises have to be made in order to achieve peace, it’s hard to admit that those compromises need to be made, because people want to cling on to their old positions and want to have 100 percent of what they want, or 95 percent of what they want, instead of making the necessary compromises.”

Regarding the Palestinian Authority’s demand that Israel freeze all settlement activity before negotiations could be renewed, Obama said “if the expectation is that we can only have direct negotiations when everything is settled ahead of time, then there’s no point for negotiations.”

Obama spent his last morning in Israel on Friday first laying wreaths on the graves of Theodor Herzl and slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on Mount Herzl, and then visiting Yad Vashem. He then met with Netanyahu for some two hours, before visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and going to Ben-Gurion Airport.

At the airport he met another time with Netanyahu for an hour, which included the call Netanyahu made to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan where he apologized for mishaps during the Mavi Marmara raid that led to the killing of nine Turks.

All told, beyond the ceremonial and symbolic aspects of the US president’s two day visit, Obama met intensively with Netanyahu for about nine hours, spread over three meetings.

The symbolic aspects, including his outreach to the Israeli public, seemed to have already reaped benefits: a Channel 2 survey found that 39 percent of the Israeli public said that their perceptions of Obama improved or improved greatly as a result of the visit; 34% said the visit did not change their perceptions; and only 2% said that their feelings toward the president became more negative.

Regarding Israeli confidence that the US will not allow Iran to get nuclear arms, some 58% of the public said they believe or believe greatly that Obama would not let Iran to go nuclear, while 38% do not believe he will keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

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