Thursday, November 7, 2013, 08:01
Israeli-Palestinian peace pact ‘can be achieved’: Kerry
By Agencies in Jerusalem

Israeli-Palestinian peace pact ‘can be achieved’: Kerry
US Secretary of State John Kerry hugs Dalia Rabin-Pelossof,  daughter of assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, after a wreath laying at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated nearby on Nov 4, 1995. (Jason Reed / Reuters)

US Secretary of State John Kerry waded again into the nitty-gritty of faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Wednesday, saying he was optimistic that tensions and difficulties could be overcome, even as Israel’s leader bashed the Palestinians for the poor state of negotiations. 

“I am very confident of our ability to work through them,’’ Kerry told reporters as he opened a meeting in a Jerusalem hotel with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “That is why I am here.’’

“This can be achieved with good faith and a serious effort on both sides,’’ he said, urging both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who he will see later in the day, to make “real compromises and hard decisions”.

After being launched in July with great fanfare, the negotiations quickly ran into trouble with no visible signs of progress and both sides reverting to a familiar pattern of finger-pointing. The goal of reaching a peace deal within nine months appears in jeopardy. Underscoring the challenge ahead, a secret negotiating session held on Tuesday broke down in an acrimonious dispute over Israeli settlement construction, according to a Palestinian official.

Netanyahu lost no time in complaining about the Palestinians, saying the peace talks were in trouble because of their behavior.

“I am concerned about their progress because I see the Palestinians continuing with incitements, continuing to create artificial crises, continuing to avoid (and) run away (from) strong decisions that are needed to make a genuine peace,’’ he told Kerry.

The talks are set to end in April, and the current deadlock has raised speculation that the US may need to step up its involvement and present its own blueprint for peace early next year, or perhaps lower expectations and pursue a limited, interim agreement.

Kerry and his aides have refused to discuss such an option, insisting instead that the goal of the talks remains a comprehensive peace pact.

Kerry said he would continue to plug away despite the problems.

“We need the space to negotiate privately, secretly, quietly and we will continue to do that,’’ he said. “We have six months ahead of us on the timetable we have set for ourselves and I am confident we have the ability to make progress.’’

In a symbolic gesture, Kerry’s first stop on landing on Tuesday evening was to visit the Tel Aviv square where the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was gunned down 18 years ago by a right-wing Israeli opposed to the peace talks.

“He dared to take the risks for peace, not just because it was important to take the risks, but that it was vital to secure the future of Israel and the region,” Kerry said after laying a wreath in the square.

After seeing Netanyahu, Kerry will travel to the West Bank town of Bethlehem for talks with Abbas. He will then return to Jerusalem for a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres and meet with Netanyahu again over dinner.