Kerry names Indyk peace envoy, calls for reasonable compromise

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Secretary of State John Kerry, as expected, named veteran diplomat Martin Indyk his new special peace envoy, as Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams arrived in Washington Monday to begin direct talks for the first time in three years.

Indyk, 62, a former US envoy to Israel and Clinton peace negotiator, “knows what has worked and he knows what hasn’t worked, and he knows how important it is to get this right,” Kerry told reporters at the State Department Monday. “Ambassador Indyk is realistic. He understands that Israeli-Palestinian peace will not come easily and it will not happen overnight.”

“But he also understands that there is now a path forward and we must follow that path with urgency,” Kerry said.

Kerry called on the parties to be willing to make “reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues,” the Associated Press reported. “I think reasonable compromises have to be a keystone of all of this effort.”

President Obama, in a statement Monday, praised the choice of Indyk, but also sounded a sober note about prospects for a breakthrough.

“The most difficult work of these negotiations is ahead, and I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith and with sustained focus and determination,” Obama said in a statement Monday.

An Arab diplomat, speaking not for attribution in an interview to Al-Monitor Monday, praised the pick of Indyk for negotiator, saying he is trusted by all sides, and, importantly, sees the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in a wider, regional context.

The Australian-born Indyk, currently vice president of the Brookings Institution, previously served as US envoy to Israel and as Assistant Secretary of State for Near East affairs. He helped found the think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Brookings said Monday he was taking a leave of absence effective immediately to take up his new duties as Special Envoy.

Indyk was recently engaged to Gahl Burt, vice chair of the American Academy in Berlin and former social secretary to Nancy Reagan, diplomatic sources and Indyk associates said.

Longtime Kerry staffer Frank Lowenstein will serve as deputy special envoy, Kerry said.

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Kerry says agreement for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to resume

Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would come to Washington next week to begin peace talks, but said that details for resumed negotiations remain to be finalized.

“On behalf of president Obama, I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Kerry said in a press conference in Amman Friday, at the end of his sixth trip this year to the Middle East to try to get the parties back to the peace table for the first time in three years. “This is a significant and and welcome step forward.”

Kerry said he will continue to keep the details of the discussions with the parties under wraps given the sensitivity and fragility of the basis for final status peace negotiations.

“The best way to give these negotiations a chance is to keep them private,” Kerry said. “We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead. Today, however, I am hopeful.”

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israeli negotiator Itzhak Molho, and Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat are expected to represent the parties at talks in Washington in the next week or so, Kerry said.

Kerry spoke to reporters in Amman after extending his trip to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the West Bank.

After his press conference, Kerry and his entourage boarded his flight to return to Washington. When Kerry entered the plane, his staff burst into applause, Bloomberg's Nicole Gaouette reported.

The parties, however, expressed ambivalence at the prospective talks–and the consequences of their potential breakdown. The Obama administration launched high-profile Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 2010, only to have them collapse a few weeks later after Israel refused to extend a one-year partial freeze on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank. Continue reading

Israel bristles at EU measure as Kerry arrives in Amman to push peace talks


Israel on Tuesday bristled at a new European Union directive curtailing EU financial agreements with Jewish settlements built outside Israel’s 1967 borders.

The move comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Amman Tuesday, for meetings with Arab diplomats about the peace process, Syria and Egypt.

Some sources said they were informed Monday that there was likely to be a three-way meeting of Israeli, Palestinian and US officials in Jordan while Kerry is there and a formal announcement of a re-launching of talks. U.S. officials however, tried vigorously to downplay the prospect of a big break-through. No trips to Jerusalem or meetings with Israeli officials were planned for this visit, Kerry's sixth to the region since becoming Secretary of State, State Department officials said.

Kerry met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh upon his arrival in Amman Tuesday before heading into what was billed as a private dinner with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Meantime, in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke harshly against the new EU directive.

“I expect those who want peace in the region to deal with settlements after they solve the Syria crisis and the Iranian threat,” Netanyahu said in a statement Tuesday in response to the EU measure, Haaretz reported.

The EU directive, adopted June 30, and due to come into effect 1 January 2014, “will prohibit the issuing of grants, funding, prizes or scholarships unless a settlement exclusion clause is included,” the Guardian newspaper reported.

The directive, which is non-binding on the EU’s 28 member states, “is financially inconsequential,” said Daniel Levy, head of Middle East programs at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It matters because liberal Israel, liberal Zionists, one of the main crutches of their argument for the two state solution, is the world won’t accept it otherwise.”

Israeli politicians such as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni have warned that Israel could face boycotts if it doesn’t curb settlements and the occupation of the West Bank, Levy said.

Israeli officials said the European move was unhelpful, however.

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Israeli lawmakers, in letter, throw support to Kerry peace efforts

The head of a coalition of some three dozen Israeli lawmakers has written U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praising his Middle East peacemaking efforts and urging him to persevere, despite push-back from some members of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

“We are writing to you to inform you of the formation of the Knesset Caucus for Ending the Israeli-Arab Conflict, and to convey our gratitude and support to you for your continuing diplomatic effort to revitalize the Arab-Israeli peace process,” Israeli deputy speaker of the Knesset Hilik Bar wrote in the letter to Sec. Kerry, dated June 5th. The Caucus, formed last month, “stands ready as your willing and able partner in our shared mission to get to Two States for Two Peoples.”

Kerry, in remarks to the American Jewish Committee (AJC) this week, “asked the audience there to 'seize the moment'…; we here in the Knesset aim to do just that,” Bar's letter continued. “As you articulated so eloquently…Israel’s survival as a secure, democratic and Jewish homeland depends on the realization of a final-status agreement that creates two-states for people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”

Bar's letter, published in full below the jump, comes as a counter-point to remarks by Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon Wednesday, warning that the Israeli government would vote to reject any two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

“If you will bring it [the two state solution] to a vote in the government…you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it,” Danon said in an interview with the Times of Israel Wednesday.

“What happens in the coming days will dictate what happens in the coming decades,” Kerry told the AJC in a speech Monday (June 3rd). “If we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.”

The Knesset pro two-state coalition currently counts about 40 members, from the Labor, Hatenu'a, Shas, Yesh Atid, Hadash, Hatnua and Meretz parties, according to a list provided to Al-Monitor. It has the support of Israeli cabinet ministers Tzipi Livni, Yaakov Perry and opposition chair and Labor party leader Shelly Yechimovich.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a query about whether Kerry had received the letter, or his reaction to it.

Kerry is expected to travel to Israel, Ramallah and Jordan yet again next week – his fifth trip to the region since becoming Secretary of State. Kerry, in his remarks to the AJC, highlighted the Arab League's reissuing of the Arab Peace Initiative last month, and its new position endorsing possible land-swaps in an agreement on the borders for a Palestinian state.

Newly joining Frank Lowenstein in aiding Kerry’s efforts in the State Department office of the Middle East peace envoy is former Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Pentagon Middle East advisor Ilan Goldenberg, sources tell the Back Channel.

Full letter from MK Hilik Bar to Sec. Kerry, not previously published, below the jump: Continue reading

US, looking to Madrid model, gives support to relaunched Arab Israel peace bid


With new backing from Washington, the Arab League on Monday re-launched its Arab-Israel peace initiative, following day long meetings with Secretary of State John Kerry at Blair House.

Analysts said Washington’s embrace of the initiative could make way for a Madrid-like process of Arab-Israeli discussions to occur in parallel to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

“The Arab League delegation affirmed that agreement should be based on the two-state solution on the basis of the 4th of June 1967 line, with the possible of comparable and mutual agreed minor swap of the land,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani said at a news conference with Kerry Monday night.

“On behalf of the President of the United States, I underscored the Arab League’s very important role… in bringing about a peace to the Middle East and specifically by reaffirming the Arab Peace Initiative here this afternoon with a view to ending the conflict,” Kerry said.

Israeli peace negotiator Tzipi Livni welcomed the initiative, which Al-Monitor reported  earlier this month was expected to be rolled out anew at the April 29 meeting.

“Even during a period of ups and downs in the Arab world, they must achieve normalization with Israel when we achieve peace with the Palestinians,” Livni said. “It’s true that there is still a long way to go, and we can’t accept all the clauses [in the Arab initiative] as holy writ, but sometimes you need to look up over the difficulties and just say good news is welcome.”

Kerry “has on his desk a proposal to replace the bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians with a multilateral platform,” Akiva Eldar reported for Al-Monitor last month (March 29).

Using the Arab peace initiative as a framework “will enable the renewal of the multilateral channels established following the 1991 Madrid peace conference on the issues of regional security, refugees, water and economic and environmental development,” Eldar wrote.

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Netanyahu calls Israel elections


As widely anticipated, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday announced early elections. Citing the Knesset’s stalemate over passing a budget, Netanyahu said elections should be held as soon as possible.

Israeli media reports said that could be as early as late January or February.

Netanyahu also said that stopping Iran from getting a nuclear bomb would be his key priority in a second term.

The Likud prime minister is in a strong position to bolster his position in the elections, although his ruling coalition could be shaken up.

Israeli television reports speculated on two possible challengers: former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, or former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, both of the Likud  break-away Kadima party. Olmert was recently exonerated of corruption charges.

(Photo: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem October 9, 2012. Netanyahu announced on Tuesday he would seek an early Israeli election, expected to be held in January or February. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.)

Israel’s Netanyahu, Mofaz said to form coalition, cancel early elections

In a surprise move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz have reportedly agreed to form a coalition government, cancelling plans for early elections that had been expected to take place on September 4.

A spokeswoman for Netanyahu’s Likud party said that Netanyahu and Mofaz would formally announce the unity government deal at a press conference Tuesday at 10:30 am in the Knesset, the Jerusalem Post’s Gil Hoffman wrote on Twitter.

The Times of Israel’s David Horovitz reports on the political calculations that may have made such a unity government deal attractive for Netanyahu:

…At the eleventh hour, just before his colleagues were set to vote the 18th Knesset into history, Netanyahu achieved a whole slew of tactical victories. He widened his coalition to include the largest party in parliament, signing the deal with Mofaz that he and the former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni could not bring themselves to ratify, no matter how beneficial each might have believed it to be for their parties and the nation. He now heads a vast coalition, in which the minor parties immediately muster less influence, and have consequently less capacity to try to manipulate the national agenda for their narrower needs. […]

 

In Mofaz, he has a partner who demonstrably wants to sit in government, and with whom he quite plainly can find a common and expedient language. … The last thing Mofaz wanted was to face the voters with Kadima heading for only 12 or so seats. […]

The deal also shows that Netanyahu “hates taking chances,” writes Haaretz editor in chief Aluf Benn: Continue reading