Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted his Palestinian partner in peace-making efforts, accusing him of embracing terrorists “as heroes,” harsh words that clouded the start of Secretary of State John Kerry’s tenth trip to the region to negotiate a peace deal he claims is “not mission impossible.”
Mr. Kerry arrived in Israel to broker negotiations that are entering a difficult phase aimed at creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel. He had dinner with Netanyahu and planned to be in the West Bank on Friday to talk with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Kerry is asking both leaders to make tough, highly charged political decisions in hopes of narrowing differences on a framework that will outline a final peace pact.
Mr. Netanyahu greeted Mr. Kerry at the prime minister’s office and joked that it had been a long time since he’d seen him.
But after the initial small talk, the Israeli leader took aim at Mr. Abbas. He claimed Abbas’ homecoming for Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails earlier this week had led more Israelis to wonder if the Palestinians seriously want to find a way to end the decades-long dispute.
“I know that you’re committed to peace,” Mr. Netanyahu told Mr. Kerry. “I know that I’m committed to peace, but unfortunately, given the actions and words of Palestinian leaders, there’s growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace.”
Mr. Netanyahu was referring to events surrounding Israel’s release on Tuesday of more than two dozen Palestinian prisoners convicted in deadly attacks against Israelis.
Mr. Netanyahu has faced political pressure from Israeli hard-liners for agreeing to release a total of 104 Palestinian prisoners as part of the US-brokered package to restart the peace talks.
As with earlier releases, the Palestinian prisoners received a hero’s welcome upon their return to the West Bank and Gaza, with officials and jubilant relatives lining up to greet them. At his headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas waited to meet the men in the middle of the night, and he pledged not to sign any peace deal until all prisoners were released.