US Secretary of State John Kerry is to fly back to Israel just days after his last visit amid a Palestinian warning that his proposals on security would lead to “total failure”.
Kerry will head to Israel on Wednesday, five days after he landed back from Jerusalem and after spending most of the weekend meeting in Washington with Israeli leaders.
“This is an important time in the negotiations, and he felt it was important to return to the region,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington, adding that Kerry would spend two days in Israel and Ramallah for talks.
The announcement came after Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top official with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), on Monday said that Kerry’s ideas on the future configuration of security arrangements which were presented to the Palestinian leadership last week, had provoked a “real crisis”.
“These ideas will drive Kerry’s efforts to an impasse and to total failure because he is treating our issues with a high degree of indifference,” he told AFP.
The proposals focus on security arrangements in the Jordan Valley which runs down the eastern flank of the West Bank, with commentators saying it would allow Israel to maintain a long-term military presence there.
The US suggestions reportedly won a positive reaction from the Israelis, but were sharply dismissed by the Palestinians as “very bad ideas, which we cannot accept”.
Israel has always insisted on maintaining a military presence in the Jordan Valley, but the notion has been rejected out of hand by the Palestinians who claim it would make a mockery of their sovereignty and merely perpetuate the occupation.
“(Kerry) only wants to win over the Israelis and (allow) settlement expansion at our expense,” Abed Rabbo charged.
Psaki denied reports that Kerry and the administration of President Barack Obama were seeking some kind of interim framework ahead of a full peace accord.
“Just to be absolutely clear, we are not focused on an interim deal, we are focused on a final deal,” Psaki told reporters, while adding “there of course will be a process to getting there”.
Earlier on Monday, an Israeli newspaper said that Washington was considering delaying the planned release of another 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners in a bid to pressure Ramallah into agreeing to its security proposals.
Several senior Palestinian officials reacted by stressing that the leadership would not accept any delay in the releases, which are due to take place at the end of the month.
Abed Rabbo too rejected any delay in implementing the third phase of releases — one of the conditions agreed on that brought the two sides back to the negotiating table for the first time in nearly three years.
Last week, Haaretz newspaper said Kerry was pushing to get some form of agreement on security as a way of driving the direct negotiations forward.
“The Americans hope that if they come to an understanding with (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu on the security issue, they can demand (he) begin to present clear positions on the border of the future Palestinian state,” the paper said.
Although Kerry’s proposals have reportedly gone a long way in addressing Israel’s security demands, they have also pushed the Israeli leader in to a tight corner, commentators said.
Writing in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot, Nahum Barnea said Kerry’s plan had posed Netanyahu with “a serious problem.”
“The military plan … robs Netanyahu of the immediate argument that he raised every time he was called upon to discuss drawing up the future border between Israel and Palestine: security arrangements.”
The US plan “reopens the internal debate on the 1967 lines and the fate of the settlements,” he said, suggesting that the pressure could cause Netanyahu’s coalition to collapse.
Bidding to keep the peace process on track, Kerry met Monday in Washington with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat and his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni.
Over the weekend he also held his first talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman since the latter returned to his post after a corruption scandal
On a positive note Monday Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians signed a historic water-sharing initiative, at the World Bank in Washington, that could protect water resources in the region amid rising demand.
“It gives a glimmer of hope that we can overcome more obstacles in the future,” said Silvan Shalom, Israel’s minister of energy and water resources, at the signing.
“We showed that we can work together despite the political problems,” echoed Palestinian water minister Shaddad Attili.