Connect to share and comment

After Turkey, Kerry returns to Mideast in fresh peace bid

PlacardEnlarge
(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel on Sunday for a new round of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on how to break a years-long impasse in direct peace negotiations.

Kerry flew in from talks in Istanbul where he called on Turkey and Israel to fully normalise their relationship two weeks after the Jewish state's US-brokered apology for a deadly 2010 raid on a Gaza aid flotilla organised by a Turkish charity.

Washington's top diplomat also said he saw Turkey playing a "key" role in any future peace talks, although a senior Israeli minister was quick to play down the idea of Ankara's immediate involvement in reviving diplomatic contacts with the Palestinians.

Kerry, US President Barack Obama's new pointman on the Middle East, is leading a renewed US effort to coax Israel and the Palestinians back to negotiations which have been frozen since September 2010.

After touching down at 1510 GMT, Kerry headed straight for the West Bank city of Ramallah where he was to meet with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas for their third meeting in just over a month.

He last met Abbas in Amman on March 23, when the Palestinian leader told him that Israeli settlements "endanger" peace efforts, while flagging up the need to address the flashpoint issue of prisoners held in Israeli jails.

The two had previously held talks in Riyadh on March 4 in their first meeting since Kerry took over as secretary of state.

This time around, Abbas was likely to just listen to what Kerry had to say, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki said.

"We will just listen to him. Kerry listened to our position, and we will listen to him to see if he will bring something new," he told AFP on Saturday.

"This meeting was called by Kerry, and president Abbas will meet him to see what he has because the United States knows our position clearly."

When Abbas hosted Obama for talks in Ramallah last month, the Palestinian leader made clear there would be no return to negotiations without a settlement freeze.

But he has also made it known he would suspend for two months all unilateral efforts to seek international recognition to give US-brokered efforts a chance, a Palestinian official told AFP last week.

Abbas also wants Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to present a map of the borders of a future Palestinian state before talks can resume.

Abbas "wants to know, through a map to be presented by Benjamin Netanyahu to Kerry, what the prime minister's view of a two-state solution would be, especially the borders," his political adviser Nimr Hammad told AFP.

"Any return to negotiations requires Netanyahu to agree on 1967 borders," Hammad said of the lines which existed before the Six Day War when Israel took over the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has on several occasions said he would not accept a return to the 1967 borders.

Kerry was on Monday to take part in a ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day before talks with Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad in the afternoon, and then a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

He will meet Netanyahu on Tuesday morning before leaving for London.

Speaking in Istanbul, Kerry said the diplomatic rapprochement between Israel and Turkey could see Ankara play a "very central" role in the peace process.

"Turkey can be a key -- an important contributor to the process of peace in so many ways," he said.

But Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's newly appointed lead negotiator for peace talks, played down the idea, saying there was unlikely to be an immediate role for Ankara.

"The idea is interesting, but it could take time," she said.

Expectations have been growing that Washington is ready to resume some kind of shuttle diplomacy to rekindle the moribund peace process, but the State Department has sought to downplay expectations.

Speaking in Istanbul, Kerry urged Israel and Turkey to quickly rebuild their shattered relationship after an Israeli apology for the deaths of nine Turkish nationals during a botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010, ended a nearly three-year diplomatic rift.

"We would like to see this relationship that is important to stability in the Middle East, critical to the peace process itself, we would like to see this relationship back on track in its full measure," he said.

jkb-hmw/bpz

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130407/after-turkey-kerry-returns-mideast-fresh-peace-bid