TEL AVIV — Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed progress Tuesday in preparing for possible new peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, opening a new chapter in U.S. peacemaking after what Kerry acknowledged is a long history of disappointments.
“Nobody is entering this with any sense of naivete,” the secretary said.
Kerry is trying to restart negotiations that have been mostly frozen for more than four years, but neither side has dropped objections or preconditions that have kept them away from the table.
He suggested that he favors a broad peace deal but gave few specifics. A comprehensive 2002 Arab League peace offer is an important element of the new strategy, he said, but added that it is up to Israel and the Palestinians to choose the basis for their talks.
“This effort is not just about getting the parties back into direct negotiations,” Kerry said as he concluded three days of back-and-forth discussions that evoked the shuttle diplomacy of an earlier era. “It’s about getting everybody into the best position to succeed.”
Negotiations would be based on the principle that the Palestinians deserve their own state alongside Israel, a goal that Kerry and others have said is at risk.
Standing next to Kerry on Tuesday, Netanyahu pledged support for negotiations and for economic development initiatives in the Israeli-controlled West Bank.
“I’m determined not only to resume the peace process with the Palestinians, but to make a serious effort to end this conflict once and for all,” the prime minister said before his second meeting with Kerry in as many days.
Kerry’s shuttle began Sunday night with a lengthy discussion of Palestinian economic woes with President Mahmoud Abbas, who has long said the old Arab peace initiative should be the foundation for any new talks. The deal, reaffirmed by Arabs in 2007 but never approved by Israel, would trade a blanket Arab peace accord with Israel for Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Kerry denied that he has requested changes to the Arab League document, as Palestinian officials have said. He appeared frustrated by what he called “partisan leaks” about the effort and said the details will remain secret for now.
That left little clarity about how a new round of talks might be structured or how negotiators might attempt to resolve major issues such as the borders of a future Palestinian state.
Kerry said he is trying to help both sides prepare for what he knows will be difficult discussions. He is laying the groundwork, he said, to “bring people to the table with a clear understanding of what we are beginning on, of what we’re trying to do and of where we want to wind up.”
As a first step, Kerry said, all sides agreed to new economic investment programs for the West Bank.
Other details or any return visit, he said, will have to wait “until we get our homework done,” after what he called forward-looking separate sessions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
“It’s not going to be done, and should not be done, in piecemeal public releases,” Kerry said. “That would do everybody a disservice. You cannot take one component of this and say, ‘This is what’s being worked on,’ and then pretend you’re going to adequately meet the needs of anybody.”
Kerry’s visit was his third to the Middle East since he became the chief U.S. diplomat in February. He has seized on the peace issue as a priority for his tenure and for President Obama’s second term. He faces long odds.
Netanyahu is considered hostile to negotiations despite public assurances that he would talk under the right conditions. Most Israelis continue to say they favor a deal to finally settle the Palestinian question more than six decades after Israel’s founding and after nearly 50 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Abbas angered the Obama administration by pressing a claim for statehood recognition at the United Nations over the objections of the United States and Israel. The United States maintains that a Palestinian state should result only from negotiation with Israel.
Abbas won the U.N. vote handily and is considering filing a complaint with the International Criminal Court over Israeli home-building on land the Palestinians claim in Jerusalem. Although the Palestinians agreed to shelve that idea for now, it hangs over the new peace effort. Abbas could revive it if he thinks talks are doomed.
Foremost for Israel, Netanyahu said Tuesday, are questions of security and the recognition of the nation as a legitimate state.
“This is a real effort, and we look forward to advancing in this effort with you,” he added.
Jobs, construction and tourism for the West Bank, all compromised by Israeli security control, were also agenda items for failed U.S.-backed peace negotiations in 2007 and 2008.
The idea then and now is to strengthen the moderate Palestinian Authority’s economic and political standing, build cooperation with Israel and improve the climate for practical negotiations about borders and trade in the region’s tight quarters.
Kerry stressed that economic improvements are a component of the new discussion but not a substitute for what he has described as the hard political concessions that creating a Palestinian state would require.
“The president has not sent me here to propose or impose an American plan or to dictate to anybody the way forward,” Kerry said. “We believe very deeply that it is our duty to give every effort we can to this.”