US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah on Tuesday, where both sides were skeptical about his chances of achieving any concrete results to reduce the current level of violence.
The visit will be Kerry’s first to Israel since the summer of 2014.
He was expected to continue talks he held with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month in Washington.
During that visit, US President Barack Obama said the goal was to discuss ways to “lower the temperature between Israelis and Palestinians, how we can get back on a path towards peace, and how we can make sure that legitimate Palestinian aspirations are met through a political process, even as we make sure that Israel is able to secure itself.”
But any US attempts to promote positive steps now seem likely to fall on deaf ears as violence continues. “He is coming to the area at a time of daily attacks, people getting killed,” one Israeli government official said. “It is a tough situation.”
The official said Netanyahu’s policy is to be tough on terrorism and try to defeat it, but see where and how support can be given to civilian population not involved in terrorism.
Asked what Jerusalem expected from Kerry, the official expressed satisfaction that the Americans have condemned the wave of terrorism and said Israel has the right to defend itself. The Palestinians, he said, could do more on their side to condemn these attacks and prevent them from happening.
Palestinian officials, meanwhile, said that they do not expect Kerry to propose any new ideas to calm the situation.
Several Palestinian groups have called for a day of escalation in the Palestinian territories in protest against Kerry’s visit.
The officials saw the main purpose of Kerry’s visit as putting pressure on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to stop the wave of violence and return to the negotiating table with Israel.
Fayez Abu Aiatah, a spokesman for Abbas’s Fatah faction, said that the PA leadership has told Kerry, and other parties that a real political solution for the Palestinian issue was the only way to achieve calm.
“Any calm that does not guarantee a political solution for the Palestinian issue would not work,” Abu Aiatah said in an interview.
“Real calm lies in finding a political solution before any visit by Kerry.”
The spokesman doubted Kerry’s mission would succeed without proposing a political solution.
“His efforts are focused on achieving calm that would bring security and stability only for Israelis,” he said.
Abu Aiatah said Kerry’s visit comes amid wide discontent among Palestinians over his recent statements describing Palestinian attacks on Israelis as terrorism.
“He showed understanding for Israel’s right to self-defense while ignoring the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves against Israel’s state terrorism and summary executions,” Aiatah told the Palestinian Khabar news agency.
By contrast, Kerry’s statement after the attacks in Paris, differentiating between those attacks and those that targeted a kosher deli and Charlie Hebdo in January, rankled pro-Israel supporters.
Kerry later walked back those comments. Nevertheless, Elliott Abrams, a former White House staffer under George W. Bush, wrote a stinging rebuke earlier in the week slamming him for saying there was a rationale for the former attacks, but not the latter.
The Prime Minister’s Office never remarked on Kerry’s comments.
Meanwhile, another senior Fatah official, Amin Maqboul, said that Kerry’s “delusional” mission would fail, adding that the Americans are only interested in serving Israeli interests at the Palestinians’ expense.
PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yusef said that Kerry was coming to the region to “protect the occupation against any attempt to hold it accountable for its continued crimes against the Palestinians.”
Jamil Majdalawi, a senior official with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, described Kerry’s visit as “suspicious.” He saw Kerry’s main goal as intended to “thwart the intifada.”
Majdalawi also criticized the US Administration for referring to Palestinian attacks against Israelis as terrorism.
Palestinian national and Islamic groups announced their opposition to Kerry’s visit and called for demonstrations and protest marches in the West Bank, including one from Ramallah to the settlement of Beit El.
In a statement, the groups called for “a day of popular protest and escalation on the ground” during Kerry’s visit and accused the US Administration of being biased toward Israel.
In the Gaza Strip, top Hamas official Ahmed Bahr accused Kerry of “conspiring” against the Palestinians.
By Herb Keinon, Khaled Abu Toameh
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