US Secretary of State John Kerry has been engaged in a wild-paced shuttle diplomacy since his arrival, 72 hours of ongoing efforts to persuade the sides to resume negotiations. He met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu four times and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) three times. On Monday, 23 Tammuz 5773 some are asking if US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro knows something others do not, for the ambassador and his family have departed on a three-week vacation in Chicago.
Despite his good intentions and commitment to the cause, amid reports of “progress”, Kerry left empty handed.
Persons close to the talks explain that Kerry was doing his utmost to get a diplomatic process going between the sides ahead of the start of Ramadan, this Friday, 27 Tammuz. It is reported that the prime minister agreed that Israel would release 60 additional terrorists in three waves; the first to coincide with the Amman summit scheduled for this week. Maariv reports Mr. Netanyahu also agreed to halt building throughout Yehuda and Shomron outside settlement blocs and to minimize construction “in eastern portions of Yerushalayim,” referring to all areas liberated in 1967, including Ramot, N’vei Yaakov, Ramat Shlomo, Ramat Eshkol and many additional areas.
Netanyahu reportedly stressed his position represents confidence-building measures and not an Israeli decision to comply with preconditions laid on the table by the PA. The prime minister demanded that Abu Mazen abandon demands for Israeli agreement for a withdrawal to the pre-1967 boundaries.
Abu Mazen was reportedly willing to accept the above regarding the ’67 borders and limiting construction to inside settlement blocs but demands the release of 123 terrorists in return, the terrorists imprisoned prior to the signing of the September 1993 Oslo Agreement. The PA leader added that because of his willingness to accept Israel’s limited compliance, all of the prisoners must be released in one wave, not incrementally.
In response to Israel’s refusal Abu Mazen demanded a total building freeze and a statement regarding the pre ’67 boundaries. Israeli officials explain the boundaries and land exchanges would be determined in negotiations, not as a precondition to the talks.
Chief PA Negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat told the press that while the later meetings were more encouraging, the overall progress was limited. While Kerry departed on Sunday he left two aides behind in the hope of creating some type of momentum.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)