JERUSALEM - US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that some progress had been made in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and that he had presented Israel with ideas for improving its security under any future accord.
“We have always known that this is a difficult, complicated road and we understand that. I believe we are making some progress,” Kerry told reporters in Jerusalem after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Acknowledging Israel’s concerns that handing over occupied territory to form part of a Palestinian state could make it vulnerable to attack, Kerry said he had offered Netanyahu “some thoughts about that particular security challenge”. He did not elaborate.
Netanyahu said Israel’s ability to defend itself must be safeguarded in any peace deal, and called on the Palestinian to hold uninterrupted and discrete negotiations.
“What we need is not grandstanding, but understanding and agreements and that requires hard and serious work,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kerry insisted that Israel’s security is a top priority for Washington, both in nuclear talks with Iran and peace talks with the Palestinians.
“I can’t emphasise enough that Israel’s security in this negotiation (with Iran) is at the top of our agenda,” Kerry said at a joint news conference in Jerusalem.
“The United States will do everything in our power to make certain that Iran’s nuclear programme of weaponisation possibilities is terminated.”
Kerry stressed the two men had spent “a very significant amount of time” discussing the peace talks with the Palestinians.
“Israel’s security is fundamental to those negotiations,” he said.
In the morning, Netanyahu was briefed by US special envoy on security General John Allen, Kerry said, describing his role as that of “assessing the potential threats to Israel, to the region, and ensuring that the security arrangements that we might contemplate in the context of this process will provide for greater security for Israel”.
Kerry said he and Allen had offered Netanyahu “some thoughts about that particular security challenge” in a discussion which would be continued at a dinner meeting, and possibly into Friday morning.
US and Israeli media reports have suggested Allen was to present Netanyahu with an outline of how Israel’s security arrangements might look as part of a peace deal.
A State Department official had said the American update would include “many details and specifics” but denied Allen was to present Netanyahu with a ready-made plan.
‘Israel must be able to defend self’
Netanyahu also alluded to discussion of security issues, saying that in any peace agreement, Israel “must be able to defend itself, by itself, with our own forces” — an allusion to the reported debate over security in the Jordan Valley which runs down the eastern flank of the West Bank.
Israel has always insisted that in any final agreement, it would have to maintain a military presence in the Valley, and has rejected outright the idea of any third party involvement.
According to a report in Maariv newspaper, Allen was to have outlined a “bridging proposal” which will enable Israel to reduce, as much as possible, its military presence in the Jordan Valley.
But deputy defence minister Danny Danon insisted Israel would not compromise on security in the Valley and “not outsource its basic security needs to the Palestinians”.
And he said the Jewish state would not accept another “bad deal” — a reference to the first-stage deal struck with Iran in Geneva last month.
“After the debacle in Geneva, we will not allow Secretary Kerry to pressure us into another bad deal.
“We have been down this road before,” he said in a statement, referring to the barrage of rocket fire which followed Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
“We will never compromise on our security, even if it means saying no to our closest ally.”
Israel’s alarmist rhetoric on Iran, which commentators say also deliberately sidelines the Palestinian issue, was heavily criticised by a former head of the Shin Bet internal security service on Wednesday.
“The consequences of not having a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more existential than the Iranian nuclear project,” Yuval Diskin told a conference in Tel Aviv.
“Israel must freeze settlement building immediately” in order to reach a much-needed agreement with the Palestinians, Diskin said.
Following talks with Netanyahu, Kerry headed straight to Ramallah to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas for discussions also expected to focus on security, although Israeli settlement construction was expected to be high on the agenda.
With the talks almost at the half-way point, the Palestinians have warned that if the negotiations fail, they would revive efforts to seek international recognition, which have currently been frozen.
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