Daily Israel Report

Livni and Kerry Meet to Talk Peace

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss reviving the Middle East peace process.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 5/3/2013, 5:44 AM

Tzipi Livni
Tzipi Livni
Flash 90

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, met Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss reviving the Middle East peace process, AFP reported.

Flying in under the radar from Israel, Livni met with Kerry for about 30 minutes, with U.S. officials declining to divulge any concrete details.

"This opportunity was part of the secretary's ongoing discussions with Israeli and Palestinian officials and Arab and European officials, who have much at stake, as well to explore possible ways forward to resolve this conflict," acting deputy State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said, according to AFP.

"They discussed the full range of political and security issues facing Israel," he added.

Ventrell refused to go into specifics, after Arab League leaders appeared to make a surprise concession Monday in saying a Palestinian state should be based on the pre-1967 borders but with mutually-agreed land swaps with Israel.

Livni had hailed the comment as "very good news," but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that the initiative does not matter because the conflict is rooted in the Arabs’ refusal to accept Israel’s existence as a Jewish State.

“The root of the conflict is not territorial. It started a long time before 1967," Netanyahu told officials in the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday.

"The Palestinians' lack of will to recognize the state of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people is the root of the conflict," he said.

In proof, he pointed to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which included the forced removal of thousands of Jewish residents of the area. Israel got rocket attacks in exchange.

However, Netanyahu said, Israel remains willing to restart negotiations with no preconditions. On Thursday, Netanyahu said that if a peace deal was worked out with the Palestinian Authority, Israelis would have a chance to voice their opinions of it in a referendum.

Ventrell pointed to "several positive developments" this week, adding that Kerry would pursue further discussion on the issue.

Livni was accompanied at the meeting by Israeli negotiator Yitzchak Molho, as well as Israel's Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, AFP reported.

Kerry was backed up by his Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Danvers, special envoy for the Middle East David Hale and deputy special envoy Frank Lowenstein, U.S. officials confirmed to the news agency.

On Monday, Kerry had met with an Arab League delegation, also far from prying eyes, to discuss reviving the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

Under the original Saudi-led plan, the League's 22 members would forge full diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for the Jewish state's "total withdrawal" to the June 4, 1967 lines that preceded the Six Day War, and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Livni, meanwhile, was quoted by AFP as having said Thursday that the Arab League's modification of its plan to end the conflict could bring new talks closer.

Livni made the comments after talks with UN leader Ban Ki-moon, which came after her meeting with Kerry. She expressed hope that the freeze on peace negotiations could thaw with the latest Arab League initiative.

"I hope so, it is (in) the interests of Israel, the interests of the Palestinians and the interests of the international community," Livni told reporters, according to AFP.

"It is clear that Secretary Kerry is completely involved, determined, and I believe that basically it (new talks) is something that we need to do."

Livni added that the Arab League’s move was "important for different reasons."

"One is the idea that even though we have a situation which is very difficult in the region and we have the states that are collapsing, and the region with all these problems, but yet we have the Arab League supporting these talks between Israel and the Palestinians and this is good news,” she said.

"The other good news is that basically what they said is that the Arab peace initiative is not something which is take it or leave it but it is negotiable," Livni added.

It is "a good message to Israel to understand that when we achieve peace with the Palestinians, hopefully we can have peace with the entire Arab world," said the Justice Minister.

"So we live in a tough neighborhood, it is going to be difficult and complicated, but the message coming from Washington after the meeting between the Arab League and Secretary Kerry was quite a positive one," Livni said.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority’s envoy to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said that Israel was only "paying lip service" to peace talks.

"While serious regional and international efforts are under way to revive the path of peace and to salvage the two-state solution, Israel instead continues to choose colonization and confrontation," Mansour said, according to AFP.

In a letter to Ban and the UN Security Council, Mansour complained that "hundreds of Palestinians have been forcibly displaced" in the past week and others face eviction.

He said such actions are "fuelling tensions on the ground, inciting violence and provoking deeper mistrust," as he called on the Security Council to act.