Abbas Adds to Peace Preconditions in Kerry Meeting

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israel’s President Shimon Peres (R) meets with Secretary of State John Kerry at the President’s residence on Monday. (FLASH90)
Israel’s President Shimon Peres (R) meets with Secretary of State John Kerry at the President’s residence on Monday. (FLASH90)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas updated his list of preconditions for peace talks during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry late Sunday in Ramallah, now insisting that Israel transfer control over parts of Area C in Yehudah and Shomron to Palestinian control, The Jerusalem Post quoted the Ma’an news agency.

This is in addition to Abbas’s previous demands for a halt to Israeli construction in the region, a promise to refrain from withholding Palestinians’ tax revenues in the future, as well as the immediate release of certain Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, preconditions which he reiterated for Kerry.

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Area C is under Israel’s exclusive control.

“The issue of the prisoners is now at the top of our list of priorities,” a PA official said. “Without the release of a significant number of prisoners, especially those who are on hunger strike and facing death at any moment, there can be no talk about resuming the peace process.”

Asked if Kerry was carrying new ideas for reviving the peace process, another PA official said: “So far we haven’t seen anything new.”

On Monday morning, Kerry attended Holocaust remembrance services at Yad Vashem before beginning a round of meetings with Israeli leaders.

During the visit, he reiterated America’s commitment to stand with Israel against the Iranian nuclear threat.  At a meeting with President Shimon Peres, Kerry assured Peres that “You have a friend in President Obama; he doesn’t bluff,” Kerry declared.

Secretary of State John Kerry (C) greets officials before a ceremony marking Israel's annual day of Holocaust remembrance, at Yad Vashem on Monday. (REUTERS)
Secretary of State John Kerry (C) greets officials before a ceremony marking Israel’s annual day of Holocaust remembrance, at Yad Vashem on Monday. (REUTERS)

Meanwhile, the Secretary’s praise for Turkey’s restraint in reaction to Israel’s apology for the Mavi Marmara incident has left Israeli officials wondering aloud if they were talking about the same country.

Israeli officials expressed astonishment at Kerry’s praise for how Turkey responded “sensitively” and without triumphalism, when the reality seemed quite different.

“What country is he talking about?” one Israeli official responded. “I’m afraid the State Department did not show the Secretary of State the press reports from Turkey following the apology,” he was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying.

The official said those reports were full of interviews and statements by both Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Davutoglu and others openly gloating over the apology, which had been elicited by President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Israel after many months of refusals to express more than “regret.” From Israel’s point of view, no apology was required, since the IDF commandos who boarded the Gaza-bound were defending themselves against violent resistance amounting to a lynch mob while enforcing a legal blockade.

In fact, such was the comportment of Turkish leaders that Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett issued a statement five days after the apology, and before Kerry’s remarks, that “it seems that since the apology, Erdogan is doing everything to make Israel regret it. He is running a personal and vitriolic campaign at the expense of Israeli- Turkish relations.”

Kerry also did not mention Ankara’s claim that Israel had agreed to lift the blockade of Gaza as part of the rapprochement.

Israel denies it made such a pledge.

Another proposal attributed to Kerry by Turkish newspaper Hurriyet is that he offered Turkey the role of mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, which Strategic Affairs, Intelligence and International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz dismissed. Steinitz told Israel Radio on Sunday that he does not believe Kerry would designate Turkey for such a role.

There is no alternative to direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, he said.