Report: US Moves Closer to Israel's Stance in Peace Talks
US Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the third time in 24 hours on Friday for talks regarding Israel's security, AFP reports.
The news comes on the heels of unconfirmed reports that the US is responding to the Palestinian Authority (PA)'s refusal to cooperate by inching closer to Israel's position on issues regarding the region's security.
Kerry, who is seeking ways to drive forward stagnant peace talks, met twice with Netanyahu on Thursday for more than six hours of talks about potential security issues in any peace agreement. He also held a three-hour meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
The meetings did not go well, however - Abbas rejected every offer set forth by the US Thursday, claiming the US would allow Israelis to continue to live in the region. Chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP the situation was "still very difficult and matters are complicated." A senior PA source was more direct, saying Kerry's security proposals "were very bad ideas which we cannot accept."
In talks with Netanyahu on Thursday, Kerry and top security adviser General John Allen outlined their view of some of the security challenges likely to face Israel in the context of a final peace agreement.
Netanyahu has said Israel would only accept the emergence of a Palestinian state if it was demilitarized, with Israeli troops deployed along the Jordan Valley - an option the Palestinians completely reject. Israel argues that the Jordan Valley is strategically crucial for the protection of Israel's borders in the event of war, and Israeli officials have also rejected any proposal removing this valley from Israel's control.
Kerry has claimed that the US views Israel's security is "fundamental" to the peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, and a top priority for Washington in nuclear negotiations with Iran.
"I can't emphasize enough that Israel's security in this negotiation is at the top of our agenda," Kerry told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. "The United States will do everything in our power to make certain that Iran's nuclear program of weaponization possibilities is terminated."
Late Thursday, Kerry addressed the progress of peace talks so far, which have until now widely been regarded by both Israelis and Palestinian Arabs as a failure. "Today, we discussed at great length issues of security in the region, security for the state of Israel, security for a future Palestine. And we, I think, made some progress," Kerry said.
"The interests are very similar, but there are questions of sovereignty, questions of respect and dignity which are obviously significant to the Palestinians, and for the Israelis - very serious questions of security," he said.
Maariv reported Friday that Israeli officials are pleased with Kerry's security proposals, but firm opposition from the Palestinian Authority was what prompted him to schedule a third meeting with Netanyahu.
A diplomatic source quoted by the paper said Washington "had moved considerably in the direction of Israel's demands" and had "accepted Israel's position on a long-term presence in the Jordan Valley".
The outline "gives good answers to the Israeli demands and is very forthcoming towards Israel," the source said.
Early on Friday, Kerry also met Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) at a Jerusalem hotel, after which he entered another round of talks with Netanyahu, officials said. The US diplomat was then expected to head straight to Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv where he would hold a news conference before flying home.