Only Palestinians and Israelis can decide whether to resume talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Wednesday as he met Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas for the first time since the peace process collapsed.
The top US diplomat told Abbas during almost two hours of talks in London that the fate of the peace process lies in the hands of the deeply-divided parties.
“Secretary Kerry made clear that while the door remains open to peace, it is up to the parties to determine whether they are willing to take the steps necessary to resume negotiations,” a senior State Department official said.
The two met in an upscale hotel for what US officials called “informal” talks, seeking to downplay any hopes of a breakthrough in Kerry’s ill-fated bid to reach a long-elusive Middle East peace deal.
After weeks of angry moves by both sides, Israel suspended its participation in the talks on April 23 after Abbas announced the Palestine Liberation Organisation — which is dominated by his moderate Fatah party — was seeking a unity deal with the Hamas militants who run the Gaza Strip.
Washington has branded Hamas a terrorist organisation since 1993 and has said it must recognise Israel and renounce violence.
Kerry, who is in London for talks on Syria on Thursday, “reiterated the need for any Palestinian government to recognise Israel, commit to non-violence, and abide by previous agreements,” the US official said in a statement.
He also “urged both sides to refrain from unhelpful steps.”
Top US officials have already warned that any Palestinian government which includes members of Hamas would risk a freeze in hundreds of millions of dollars of US funding to the Palestinian Authority.
Under US law the government is banned from supporting groups branded as foreign terrorist organisations.
Kerry coaxed the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table in July after a three-year hiatus, and both sides agreed to keep talking for nine months.
But the April 29 deadline expired with the peace process in disarray, forcing Kerry and his team to declare a “pause” in the negotiations.
Washington has said both sides broke the terms of the July deal.
In late March, Israel had refused to release as promised a last group of Palestinian prisoners, and announced plans for 700 new settlers homes, prompting the Palestinians to then seek to join 15 UN conventions.
Abbas updated Kerry on his reconciliation efforts, after also meeting earlier in the day with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
“President Abbas outlined his plans for a new, technocratic Palestinian government, committed to the Quartet principles, including non-violence and the recognition of Israel,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
“He also expressed his readiness to resume peace talks with Israel and his hope that this could be achieved rapidly.”
-Impasse likely to last-
Cameron had urged Abbas to make “progress towards securing the rapid resumption of peace talks, which remain the only viable route to a lasting solution.”
On Tuesday, Israeli President Shimon Peres said he hoped for a return to talks with the Palestinians.
“The negotiations with the Palestinians, led by Secretary Kerry, are currently paused but they are not finished,” he told a press conference in Oslo.
“Neither side has a better alternative than peace based upon two states for two peoples. I hope that the negotiations will be re-started,” he said.
But Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israeli lawmakers “the impasse in negotiations with the Palestinians is expected to continue”.
He accused Abbas of having “no interest to reach a deal with Israel, no matter what Israel offers him,” noting past proposals of Israeli land concessions Abbas had turned down.