Secretary of State John Kerry met Wednesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a bid to salvage the foundering Mideast peace talks that were dealt a new blow when the Arab League said it would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Kerry and Abbas spoke for more than four hours over a working dinner in the Jordanian capital of Amman that U.S. officials said were “constructive.” No other details of the meeting were released. Kerry planned further talks with Abbas and with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the coming days.
Kerry flew from Rome to Amman to see Abbas as negotiations approached a critical April 30 deadline for an agreement. The Palestinians have threatened to walk away before then unless Israel releases a group of prisoners, as it agreed to, by the end of this week.
Speaking to reporters earlier Wednesday in Kuwait, Abbas said he still was waiting to receive a formal framework proposal from Kerry. He said there have been no talks on extending negotiations beyond the April deadline, adding that the coming month would be “a very important period.”
Kerry was expected to brief Netanyahu by phone after the meeting, but is not expected to travel to Yerushalayim to talk with the prime minister. Israeli officials said that the two men have been speaking by phone recently “almost every day,” according to The Jerusalem Post.
U.S. officials have reportedly been exerting heavy pressure on Abbas to agree to extend the talks, mentioning the possibility of threatening to cut off funds to the PA and shutting down the Palestinian Embassy in Washington.
One Palestinian official said Abbas has no choice but to agree to the U.S. demand for extension of the peace talks beyond the April deadline, and accused Washington of “political and financial blackmail.”
Meanwhile, outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Yerushalayim on Wednesday evening, hundreds of Israelis gathered to protest the planned prisoner release, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Among the angry protesters was Gila Molcho, whose brother’s three killers were freed during the 2011 exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
“People of Israel, wake up!” she shouted, as she held up a photo of her brother, Ian Feinberg, killed in Gaza in 1993.
Molcho said that the releases send a clear message to young Palestinians that murdering Jews will result in celebrity status and a better life.
“We’re increasing terrorism by saying: ‘Don’t worry, you can kill Jews and get out of prison in a few years, get a college degree, have children, get money and still have your lives ahead of you,” she said. “And we’re left with nothing! We’re left shattered.”
Molcho could barely contain herself as people passed by in the street, ignoring the demonstration.
“I feel like I want to take every person walking past us and shake them!” she said. “It’s my problem today, but it might be your problem tomorrow!”
Michael Grossman, a former paratrooper, was outraged that only Israel is expected to free terrorists for peace negotiations.
“There’s no way in a normal world that [governments] would release murderers like this — it’s outrageous!” he said. “When I was in the army we captured these terrorists, who were trying to kill little kids — or any other innocent person they could — and now we’re supposed to let them go?”
Jonathan Benedek slammed Kerry and the Obama administration for pressuring Netanyahu into agreeing to the releases.
“I think it’s absolutely a disgrace that with this batch we’ll have released more than 100 terrorists over the last nine months,” he said. “It’s simply us bending to pressure from Kerry and the White House to get a framework done as soon as possible.”