US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the Middle East on Thursday to try and promote a framework peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Kerry landed in Tel Aviv in the early afternoon, US Embassy spokesman Geoffrey Anisman told DPA, and shuttle between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He would stay at least until Friday and possibly Saturday, Mr. Anisman said.
The five-month-old negotiations with a nine-month deadline are reaching a boiling point, not least because of Palestinian anger about ongoing Israeli settlement construction and a dispute regarding the Jordan Valley, along the eastern West Bank. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the framework being drafted by Mr. Kerry would address all the core issues of the conflict such as Jerusalem, borders, refugees, settlements and security arrangements. “The framework agreement would serve as guidelines — and I don’t know if I would use the word agreement; I would use the term “proposed framework” because it’s only a proposed framework at this point,” she told reporters in Washington.
Hoping to minimize international criticism during Mr. Kerry’s visit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has postponed the publication of tenders for the construction of another 1,400 settler homes, apparently to next week. Mr. Netanyahu freed another 26 Palestinian prisoners early Tuesday, as part of a commitment to release a total of 104 militants jailed since before the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords by April. He also announced more construction projects in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem during previous prisoner releases in August and October, a move designed to appease hardliners in his government.
An associate told Israel Army Radio that Mr. Netanyahu was torn between his wish to avoid being blamed for any failure of the peace negotiations, and a sense that he was emerging as a “sucker” because he agreed to free 104 detainees but was “getting nothing in return.” As Mr. Netanyahu was under pressure from Mr. Kerry to accept a document of principles — expected to include a reference to the lines of before the 1967 war as the basis for the borders of the future Palestinian state — he was also under pressure from hardliners in his government, including his own Likud-Beiteinu alliance. “The Jordan Valley should be under Israeli sovereignty forever,” Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin told reporters as he toured the valley and inaugurated a new settlement neighbourhood.
“All those demanding we offer an Israeli withdrawal to ‘67 lines should know we have only one answer ... No!” “It’s good to talk to our neighbors, but it does not make sense to ask us to give up the security of Israeli residents and the vital interests of Israel. Those who give up the Jordan Valley will turn Kfar Saba into Sderot,” said Mr. Elkin. He referred to an central Israeli town near the Green Line that separates Israel from the West Bank, and to a town near Gaza that has come under repeated rocket fire.
Israeli soldiers on Wednesday demolished a protest tent village called ’Canaan X,’ set up by Palestinian and pro—Palestinian international activists in the Jordan Valley to emphasize their belief that the valley belongs to the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority and Jordan have strongly condemned a draft bill proposed by an Israeli committee dominated by hardliners to annex the Jordan Valley and extend Israeli law over its Jewish settlements. Chief Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni and other centrist members of Mr. Netanyahu’s government have also condemned it.