Netanyahu casts pall over peace overtures

Secretary of State John Kerry's latest effort to salvage faltering Middle East peace talks got off to a rough start on Thursday when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly questioned the Palestinians' commitment to peace.

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Kerry has made a two-state solution a key goal of his tenure, and is expected to present both sides with a detailed framework during his 10th visit to the region over the next couple of days. The two parties remain bitterly divided, however, with the Palestinians slamming continued Israeli settlement construction and Israel livid over the Palestinians' failure to condemn acts of violence against Israelis.

“I know that you’re committed to peace, I know that I’m committed to peace, but unfortunately, given the actions and words of Palestinian leaders, there’s growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace,” Netanyahu told Kerry in Jerusalem ahead of their meeting.

Netanyahu's outburst was sparked by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's warm embrace of the latest batch of Palestinian prisoners, many accused of killing Israelis, who were released Monday as a condition of the peace talks. Netanyahu also accused the Palestinian security forces of being involved in “at least” one of the terrorist attacks that have rocked Israel in recent weeks.

“A few days ago in Ramallah, President Abbas embraced terrorists as heroes. To glorify the murders of innocent women and men as heroes is an outrage,” he said. “So it’s not surprising that in recent weeks Israel has been subjected to a growing wave of terrorist attacks.”

Kerry sought to reassure Netanyahu of America's “ironclad” support for Israel. He said he had “no illusions” that a peace deal would be easy but that he took solace from America's own history in making peace with Vietnam, which he visited last month for the first time as America's top diplomat.

Kerry went on to say that the framework that's now being discussed won't be imposed by the United States on either party. The administration hopes to leverage that road map to reach a final peace deal by the fast-approaching deadline.

“I want to emphasize that the discussion of an agreed framework has emerged from the ideas that both parties have put on the table,” Kerry said. “My role is not to impose American ideas on either side but to facilitate the parties’ own efforts. An agreed framework would clarify and bridge the gaps between the parties so that they can move towards a final peace treaty that would resolve all of those core issues.”

Kerry relaunched peace talks in July. He gave himself nine months — until April 29 — to reach a peace deal.

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