By Maher Abukhater
Ramallah, Nov 25 – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rounded up on Tuesday a one day visit to Palestine and Israel that did not create any results that could resuscitate the moribund Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
Upon arrival in Israel, Kerry held talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before traveling to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
This is Kerry’s first trip to the region since the peace process he was spearheading came to an abrupt halt in April last year after Israel refused to release a previously agreed upon group of Palestinian prisoners held since before the start of the Oslo process in 1993.
Palestinian officials said after the Kerry-Abbas meeting that the U.S. foreign policy chief spent most of the time talking about restoring calm to the West Bank and Jerusalem without offering anything concrete on reviving the peace process.
“Kerry said let’s start by calming things down and after that we can talk about political matters,” said the top Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat, adding that Kerry did not bring anything new with him.
More than 95 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the outbreak in early October of what has been referred to as “the third Intifada” against the Israeli occupation. Almost 20 Israelis were also killed in the Palestinian attacks.
While in Israel, Kerry condemned the Palestinian knife attacks against Israelis.
“No people anywhere should live with daily violence, with attacks in the streets with knives or scissors or cars,” he said before meeting Netanyahu. “Israel has every right in the world to defend itself,” he said.
Netanyahu also stressed that “there can be no peace when we have an onslaught of terror, not here or not anywhere else in the world.”
Erekat criticized Kerry’s latest political approach saying that it is premature to talk about calm while Israeli is building settlements and killing Palestinians.
“Talking about calm while Israel is continuing with settlements, dictation, home demolitions, arrests and daily executions is not realistic at all,” he said.
Palestinian political analyst, Sam Bahour said the U.S. looks at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from the point of view of Israel’s security.
“The U.S. looks at this conflict from the perspective that Israel’s security comes first,” he said, “when it should look at it from the perspective of ending the occupation.”
This is proof of failure of American diplomacy in the region “when it cannot distinguish between civil disobedience and violence,” he added. “People are not going to remain quiet after more than 48 years of occupation.”
Bahour said “Kerry has focused in his talks on restoring calm and ignored a political solution knowing very well that the issue is political with distinction.”
Palestinians demonstrated in Ramallah against Kerry’s visit calling on the Palestinian Authority not to meet the U.S. Secretary of State.
“Kerry is not welcome here” and “the U.S. must stop its support to organized Israeli terrorism” read signs carried by the few dozen demonstrators condemning Kerry’s earlier statements in Israel about the knife attacks.
Palestinians have expressed concern that Kerry was going to bring with him economic incentives proposed by Israel in return for restoring calm.
Israeli reports said before the meetings that Netanyahu may propose an improvement in Palestinians’ economic lives in the West Bank in return for restoring calm and for U.S. recognition of the major settlement blocks Israel had built on territories occupied in 1967.
Erekat denied that Kerry had discussed these issues with them and said the secretary of state reiterated the long-standing U.S. position, which is not going to change: that settlements are illegitimate.