On Wednesday, Mar. 26, United States Secretary of State John Kerry cut his trip to Italy short to fly to Amman in hopes of keeping the Palestinian-Israeli peace process on track.
Kerry met with Jordan’s King Abdullah before a long dinner with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. On the three-hour flight to Amman Kerry spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then they also talked again after Kerry met with Abbas. Kerry’s main objective was to get Abbas’s agreement on continuing peace negotiations past the initial April deadline.
The State Department provided no details of Mr. Kerry’s more than four hour meeting with Mr. Abbas. “They had a constructive conversation, and the Secretary plans to remain engaged with both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu over the coming days,” said a senior State Department official, who declined to be identified in accordance with the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters.
One of the terms in the July deal for the resumption of peace negotiations was that Israel would release 104 Palestinian terrorists held since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords in exchange for the Palestinians not pressing their statehood claims to the United Nations.
Before Israel releases more prisoners, Israel wants to be reassured that Abbas will continue the U.S. brokered peace negotiations.
“Israel is trying to worm its way out of releasing the prisoners. They will be held responsible for any repercussions of this,” Palestinian Minister of Prisoners Affairs Issa Qaraqe told Voice of Palestine radio.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki disputed Israeli news media claims that current discussions include the early release from a U.S. prison of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. “Pollard was convicted of espionage against the United States, a very serious crime,” Psaki said Wednesday. “There are currently no plans to release Jonathan Pollard.”
Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have long sought the release of the former U.S. intelligence analyst, who was convicted in 1987 of passing secrets to Israel and sentenced to life in prison. Pollard’s early release could appeal to hard-line members of Netanyahu’s political coalition, which could also help to get the votes necessary for the expected prisoner release.
Another obstacle has been Abba’s refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas has argued that the Palestinians already acknowledged Israel’s right to exist in 1993. Palestinians fear recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would damage the chance for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war of its founding to return. Israel repeatedly claims that refugees should resettle in a future Palestinian state.
After a two-day Arab League summit in Kuwait, Arab leaders representing the 22 Arab League member states released a statement Wednesday that said; “We hold Israel entirely responsible for the lack of progress in the peace process and continuing tension in the Middle East. We express our absolute and decisive rejection to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.”
The State Department announced Wednesday that Kerry will travel next week to Brussels to meet with NATO foreign ministers. That session is also expected to focus on Russia and Ukraine. Kerry will also visit Algeria and Morocco next week.