Grappling with troubled peace process, Kerry urges Israeli settlement limits

Grappling with troubled peace process, Kerry urges Israeli settlement limits
# 06 November 2013 18:11 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Israel on Wednesday to limit settlement building in occupied territories to help push peace talks with the Palestinians back on track, APA reports quoting Reuters.

Faced with grim Israeli and Palestinian assessments of progress in the talks, Kerry also appeared to slap down Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and warmly endorsed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's commitment to seeking a two-state solution.

Friction over the talks has risen this past week on the back of Israeli plans, announced in tandem with its release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, for some 3,500 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"Let me emphasize at this point the position of the United States of America on the settlements is that we consider them... to be illegitimate," Kerry, reaffirming long-standing U.S. policy, said after discussions with Abbas.

Speaking to reporters in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Kerry said it would be better if settlement building was "limited as much as possible in an effort to help create a climate for these talks to be able to proceed effectively".

Palestinians have warned of a brewing crisis if Israel continues to assert that they had effectively agreed to turn a blind eye to the settlement campaign, in exchange for the progressive release of 104 long-serving inmates.

Kerry dismissed Israeli suggestions there had been an understanding with the Palestinians about settlement expansion and stated "unequivocally" his belief that Abbas was "100 percent committed" to peace talks.

"I want to make it extremely clear that at no time did the Palestinians in any way agree as a matter of going back to the talks, that they somehow condone or accept the settlements," he said.

In Jerusalem earlier, Netanyahu had said the U.S.-brokered negotiations had failed to make any real progress.

Speaking to reporters with a stone-faced Kerry at his side, Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of creating "artificial crises" and of trying to "run away from the historic decisions that are needed to make a genuine peace".

Hours later, Kerry said Abbas "wants to try peace and he understands it requires compromise by all the parties".

The chief U.S. diplomat, citing "difficulties" in the peace process, had said earlier in Jerusalem that the United States was convinced that Netanyahu was also determined to pursue an end to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"As in any negotiation there will be moments of up and moments of down, and it goes back and forth," Kerry said.

Kerry, whose shuttle diplomacy helped to revive the talks last July after a three-year break, has set a nine-month schedule for an agreement, despite widespread skepticism.

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