Kerry Cites ‘Unprecedented Mistrust’ Between Israel, PA

March 13, 2014  

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that the level of mistrust between Israelis and the Palestinian Authority was the highest he had ever seen.

But he insisted that he was hopeful of reaching “some kind of understanding of the road forward” as he seeks to nail down a framework to guide the stuttering Middle East peace talks, according to AFP

Kerry acknowledged there were “gaps …. some of them very significant,” but stressed they should be seen within the context of the negotiations, saying “I still believe it’s possible, but difficult.” 

“Certain narrative issues are so powerful and so difficult that neither leader is going to definitively cede on them at an early stage of the negotiation,” the top US diplomat conceded. He called them “big-ticket items” which required some trading by both sides.

Kerry, the stubborn optimist

Among the main issues are the fact that the PA has formally refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state throughout talks, stating that “the Arab states will never recognize a Jewish state.” PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas reiterated this position earlier this month, when he told young members of his Fatah movement that “there is no way” he would recognize Israel.

On Sunday, Abbas was backed by the Arab League, as the league’s head, Nabil Elaraby, urged Arab countries to take a “firm stand” against Israel’s demand for the PA to recognize it as a Jewish state.

The announcement also follows news earlier this week that the US has dropped demands on the PA to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Likud MKs, including Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, have called on the Prime Minister to stand firm against a deal without the clause, widely seen as a “deal-breaker” in the ongoing talks to establish a framework for peace. 

Kerry recently acknowledged that talks have not been going well.

“The level of mistrust is as large as any level of mistrust I’ve ever seen, on both sides,” Kerry told lawmakers at a hearing into the 2015 State Department budget request. “Neither believes the other is really serious. Neither believes that the other is prepared to make some of the big choices that have to be made here.”

Despite that, Kerry insisted that “each of them has helped to inch forward.” 

“And in this particular challenge, inches are acceptable and pretty good and helpful. And we’re going to keep moving the way we’re moving,” he added. 

The top US diplomat has remained optimistic about the talks throughout the process, stating in December that a deal was “close” despite ongoing complications and dispute over the terms from both the PA and Israel.  He recently said that the peace talks would need to continue beyond the April deadline that was set, though the PA was quick to reject that possibility.

Mistrust all round

Kerry’s announcements surface less than 24 hours after a poll by the Tel Aviv University and Israeli Democracy Institute revealed that the overwhelming majority of Israelis – both Arabs and Jews – do not trust Kerry in the way he has handled negotiations thus far. 

The poll found that two-thirds of the Jewish public does not trust Kerry’s framework agreement to take account of Israel’s security as a crucial factor. In addition, 61% think he is mainly motivated by a personal interest in “going down in  history as a statesman who succeeded where others before him failed,” while only 22% hold the view that his efforts reflect honest concern for the future of the two sides. Among the Arab public, 53% said that Kerry is not putting Israel’s security interest first; 56% mainly attributed a personal motive to Kerry’s activity.

The Secretary of State has also not yet made a public statement over Islamic Jihad’s barrage of rocket fire on Israel on Wednesday night, and how they might effect talks between Israel and the PA.

This evening’s onslaught saw over 60 rockets hit the Negev and thousands of Israelis forced into bomb shelters. 

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