US Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a grim warning to Israel on Thursday that failure to make peace with the Palestinians could trigger a new, bloody uprising.
“The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos,” Kerry said in a joint interview with Israel’s Channel 2 and the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp.
“I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?” the top US diplomat asked, using the Arabic word for uprising.
The first intifada against the Israeli occupation ran from 1987 to 1993. It was followed by a second one from late 2000 to 2005 in which rights groups estimate some 3,000 Palestinian and 1,000 Israeli civilians and troops died.
Kerry was speaking before he was due to return to Jerusalem on Friday for breakfast with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He is on his seventh trip to Israel and the West Bank as he seeks to put the troubled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations back on track.
Kerry, who has made finding a peace deal a personal quest, said he had made “significant progress” in more than 10 hours of shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Wednesday.
But there are growing fears that many issues, including Israeli settlements, could derail the peace process.
Kerry pledged he “absolutely” believed a final agreement on all the most difficult issues could be reached, but he did not rule out the possibility of first striking an interim deal.
“We made significant progress in our discussions about a couple of the areas of concern in the panorama of the concerns that exist,” Kerry told reporters after arriving in Amman to meet Jordanian King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.
‘Settlement plans do not mean building’
Direct talks broke down on Tuesday amid a bitter row over Israeli moves during the past week to push ahead with construction of more than 3,700 new settler homes.
“The Palestinians knew that Israel would make some announcements. They knew it, but they donât agree with it, and they donât support it,” Kerry said in the TV interview, before he left for Amman.
“We didnât negotiate a freeze. So thereâs a difference here between knowing something may happen and objecting to it.”
However, he insisted that “the good side of it is during the time that we are negotiating the planning will not translate into building and construction.”
Abdullah praised Kerry for winning international trust and said his assurances were critical to ensuring the success of the Middle East peace process.
Kerry later held another round of talks over dinner with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, this time in Amman.
Kerry also announced that he was returning to Jerusalem on Friday, for a previously unscheduled meeting with Netanyahu.
It was not immediately clear if he will fly back to Jordan where he had been due to spend the night before leaving as planned for the United Arab Emirates on Saturday.
Israeli media reported this week that Israeli negotiators told their Palestinian counterparts the separation barrier that cuts through the West Bank should serve as the border of a future Palestinian state.
The Palestinians insist the borders be based on the lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel seized Gaza, the West Bank and Arab east Jerusalem.
Israeli press reports also mooted a new US approach that would see Washington presenting the sides with a proposal for an interim agreement — something Kerry has already emphatically denied.
On Thursday, Kerry told reporters an interim agreement would not be out of the question. It “might be a step along the way,” he said, but “only if it embraces the concept of a final status.”
“But you cannot just do an interim agreement and pretend you are dealing with the problem.
“We’ve been there before. We’ve had interim agreements, we’ve had road maps. But if you leave the main issues hanging out there, mischief makers will make the most of that and bad things will happen in the interval that then make it even harder to get to the final status.”