Netanyahu, Kerry to meet as peace push continues

Netanyahu and Kerry to meet against the backdrop of French peace initiative and a Quartet report criticizing Israel.

Ben Ariel ,

Kerry and Netanyahu (archive)
Kerry and Netanyahu (archive)
Avi Ohayon/GPO

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet next week in a European capital, against the backdrop of the French peace initiative and a Quartet report likely to severely criticize Israel’s policies in Judea and Samaria, Haaretz reported Sunday.

A senior Israeli official said Netanyahu spoke with Kerry by telephone on Friday and they decided to meet face-to-face, though no exact date or venue has as yet been set.

A senior official at the State Department noted that no date was yet set for the meeting, and that it was still unclear whether Netanyahu and Kerry's schedules would even enable a meeting next week.

According to Haaretz, the main reason for the meeting is increasing international activities aimed at reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, particularly the French initiative which has raised a great deal of concern in Netanyahu's bureau.

On June 3, France hosted a summit of foreign ministers in Paris who discussed ways in which the international community could "help advance the prospects for peace, including by providing meaningful incentives to the parties to make peace," according to a joint statement released afterwards.

Israel has rejected the French initiative, with Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold said the bid was doomed to failure, like a 1916 colonial effort to carve up the Middle East.

Netanyahu has also repeatedly stated Israel’s objection to the initiative, and told French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault that it would be better if France and its partners would encourage Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas to accept Netanyahu’s invitation to sit down for direct negotiations.

But despite Israel’s objection to the move, senior officials in Jerusalem noted that the French initiative was rapidly gaining speed, and that it was clear that though the U.S. has little enthusiasm over it, it's making no efforts to stop it.

Kerry was at the June 3 foreign ministers' meeting in Paris, which lent the process a significant degree of encouragement. The 28 European foreign ministers will meet again on Monday to adopt the French plan and call for an international conference to be held by the end of the year, despite Israel's objections.

Another development raising concern in the Prime Minister's Office is a report by the Quartet of the United States, Russia, European Union and the United Nations set to be published on Thursday.

The report is expected to severely criticize Israel for construction in Judea and Samaria and its policies in Area C where Israel exercises both civilian and security control.

On Friday, after the report is set to be published, the UN Security Council is set to hold its monthly meeting on the Middle East. One of Jerusalem's fears is that Quartet members will use the meeting to put out a presidential statement adopting the Quartet's report, its recommendations and conclusions, noted Haaretz. Such a statement, though only symbolic, would significantly enhance the report's impact.

The Netanyahu-Kerry meeting may delay publication of the Quartet's report. If so, Netanyahu will try to use the meeting as a way of softening the wording and recommendations as much as possible, according to the newspaper.