THE US Secretary of State, John Kerry, is to continue his
efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians,
despite the difficulties yet to be overcome. When talks resumed
last July, Mr Kerry said his aim was to reach a comprehensive deal
within nine months.
The prospect of an agreement before May does not appear good.
But last weekend, after threedays of intensive meetings with
Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the Secretary of State said that
he remained "as hopeful as I have been". He would go on working
with both sides "with great intensity, with serious purpose, with
the commitment to trying to resolve this conflict that has gone on
for many years too long".
The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said that no one
would benefit more from the successof Mr Kerry's efforts than the
Palestinians, and "no one standsto lose more from failure than
Palestinians. Failure, to us, is not an option. We really are doing
everything humanly possible to ensure the success of Secretary
Mr Erekat urged Israel to refrain from any acts that might
"prejudice or pre-empt the outcome of permanent status
negotiations, i.e. settlement activity and home demolitions".
While the status of settlements, the drawing of new borders, and
the future of Jerusalem are among the most contentious issues,
another obstacle has arisen over the definition of Israel and the
latter's future security demands. In the opinion of the Israeli
Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, "the Palestinians are
continuing their campaign of inciting hatred, as we have seen in
the last few days with their refusal to recognise Israel as a state
for the Jewish people. This is the main issue that we're discussing
with him [Mr Kerry]."
The Netanyahu government is also insisting that its troops must
continue to be deployed in the Jordan Valley after the formation of
a Palestinian state, in order to ensure Israel's security - a
demand rejected out of hand by the Palestinian leadership, along
with that of recognising Israel as a state exclusively for the
Mr Netanyahu has strong support for his stand on the talks with
the Palestinians from the right-wing constituency in Israel, not
least from the supporters of the former prime minister Ariel
Sharon, who has been in a coma for the past eight years, and whose
medical condition has deteriorated sharply over recent days.
Whatever the fate of Mr Sharon, the chances are that the
optimistic deadline of April for an agreement between Israel and
the Palestinians will have to be extended, if Mr Kerry still feels
hopeful of success. This would mean that talks would be continuing
during a planned visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Land in late
The Pope will visit the Jordanian capital, Amman, before going
on to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, he told pilgrims in St Peter's
Square last Sunday. The main purpose of his visit is to commemorate
the historic meeting 50 years ago between Pope Paul VI and
Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople in the Garden
of Olives in Jerusalem.