Abbas optimistic about Kerry efforts

2013-07-02 15:47
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas  (File, AP)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (File, AP)

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Ramallah — The Palestinian president said on Tuesday he is optimistic that US Secretary of State John Kerry will succeed in restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, a rare upbeat assessment about ongoing American mediation efforts.

Mahmoud Abbas' comments came two days after Kerry ended his latest peace mission to the region without any breakthroughs. While Kerry said he had narrowed the gaps between the sides, the lack of any visible progress has led to widespread pessimism on both sides.

A new poll of Israelis and Palestinians released on Tuesday showed that the publics on both sides have little faith in Kerry's peace efforts. The death of a young Palestinian during an overnight clash with Israeli troops in the West Bank threatened to deepen the mistrust.

At a news conference, Abbas said Kerry presented "useful and constructive suggestions" and promised to return to the region within the next week or so. In the meantime, Kerry has left senior aides in the region to continue his mediation efforts.

"We are optimistic because he is serious and determined to reach a solution," Abbas said at a joint appearance with visiting Italian Foreign Minister Enrico Letta.

Since taking office early this year, Kerry has been shuttling between Israel and the Palestinians in search of a formula for restarting peace talks, which have been stalled for nearly five years. It was his fifth visit to the region as secretary of state.

Settlement issue

Before departing, Kerry said he had made significant progress in bringing the sides back to the negotiating table. But he declined to provide any details on the "package" he is working on, and asked both sides to keep quiet out of respect for the negotiating process.

The last substantive round of talks broke down in late 2008, shortly before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office.

The Palestinians have demanded that Netanyahu stop building in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem before talks resume. The Palestinians claim both areas, captured by Israel in 1967, as parts of a future state.

They also say that Israel should recognize its pre-1967 lines as the basis for final borders with a future Palestine. Netanyahu has rejected both demands, saying all disagreements should be resolved in negotiations.

Kerry's efforts have placed the Palestinians in a delicate position. They do not want to be blamed for any failure. At the same time, if they resume talks on Netanyahu's terms, Abbas would go against Palestinian public opinion.

After 20 years of intermittent talks with Israel, few believe there's a chance to strike a deal with Netanyahu, an ideological hard-liner whose government is dominated by politicians who oppose significant concessions. Several top officials have even spoken out against the establishment of a Palestinian state.


In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, Netanyahu played down these comments, saying that he is responsible for the country's foreign policy. He said he was committed to seeing Kerry succeed and ready to start serious negotiations.

"I said that Secretary Kerry's effort should be supported. If he were to pitch a tent between my office here in Jerusalem and Abu Mazen's office in Ramallah then I would enter that tent immediately and I would stay in it so that we can devote serious effort to try to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians," Netanyahu said.

Abu Mazen is Abbas' nickname.

"The only way you can get to the end of the negotiations is to begin them, so we should get on with them — begin negotiations," Netanyahu added.

Also on Tuesday, a joint poll by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, West Bank, showed deep scepticism among Israelis and Palestinians.

Only 27% of the Palestinians and 10% of the Israelis polled said they think the two sides will return to negotiations and violence will cease.

Threat to existence

Still, according to the poll, a majority on both sides — 62% of Israelis and 53% of Palestinians — support the two-state solution to the conflict that Kerry is promoting, which calls for establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

According to the survey, a majority on each side views the other as "constituting a threat to its very existence".

The survey was conducted shortly before Kerry's visit. It polled 1 270 Palestinians face-to-face in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem with a margin of error of 3 percentage points. Pollsters interviewed 601 Israelis over the phone, and the survey had a 4.5 point margin of error.

Hours before the report was released a Palestinian was killed in an altercation with Israeli forces in the West Bank. Kamel Hamid, governor of Hebron district, said the man was shot and then hit by an Israeli jeep after throwing rocks at soldiers in the village of Dura.

The Israeli military said several Palestinians threw rocks and rushed a military vehicle early on Tuesday morning and climbed on top of it.

It said soldiers called on them to get down and when the Palestinians ignored repeated warnings, troops deployed non-lethal riot control gear, the military said. When that failed to deter them, soldiers opened fire toward one of the Palestinians, it said.

Read more on:    mahmoud abbas  |  john kerry  |  benjamin netanyahu  |  israel  |  palestine  |  middle east peace

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