JERUSALEM: United States (US) Secretary of State John Kerry met for nearly four hours into Friday morning with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his latest bid to revive Middle East peace talks.
On his fifth visit in as many months, Kerry met for dinner on Thursday with Netanyahu at a Jerusalem hotel before his motorcade drove back to Amman where he will meet for lunch on Friday with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
All sides were careful in their public statements, but a US official said that Netanyahu and Kerry had “productive, in-depth and wide-ranging” talks over a dinner of red tuna.
Kerry “reiterated his strong and sustained commitment to working with all parties to achieve two states, living side-by-side with peace and security,” the US official said on condition of anonymity.
Kerry, who met Jordan’s King Abdullah 2nd in Amman before his brief trip to Jerusalem, is seeking to break a three-year stalemate and restart direct negotiations that would ultimately lead to an independent Palestinian state.
Netanyahu earlier set the tone for the meeting by saying that security was “a basic condition” for peace.
“Peace rests on security. It is not based on goodwill or legitimacy as some think. It is based, first and foremost, on our ability to defend ourselves,” he told a ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism.
The remarks come after the Haaretz newspaper quoted an anonymous “senior cabinet member” from Netanyahu’s Likud party as saying the premier would be ready to give up almost all of the West Bank if Israel’s security needs were met.
Netanyahu had tense relations with President Barack Obama during the US leader’s first term over the peace process. But an Israeli minister said Netanyahu increasingly saw a strategic interest for resuming peace talks.
“Netanyahu knows there will be a painful evacuation of a number of settlements that are not in the settlement blocs, and that there will be a land swap,” Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri told army radio.
“Netanyahu is much more ready than in the past, whether it’s for ideological or practical reasons, for an immediate return to the negotiating table,” said Peri, of the centrist Yesh Atid party.
But Netanyahu emerged from January elections with an even more right-leaning cabinet.
The day before Kerry’s arrival, an Israeli planning committee granted final approval for the construction of 69 new settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem.
On Thursday Britain and France issued statements condemning the move as illegal under international law and liable to jeopardize peace efforts.
The Palestinians insist they can only return to negotiations if Israel freezes settlements and agrees the talks will be based on the principle of withdrawing from territories it conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War.