WASHINGTON, D.C.: US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Israel and the Palestinian territory next week for the first time in more than a year to push for an end to a spate of violence.
Since the start of October, at least 15 Israelis have been killed in stabbing and gun attacks on civilians, while more than 80 Palestinians have died, many of them attackers.
Four more Israelis were stabbed and wounded in the southern city of Kiryat Gat on Saturday, and an American was among five civilians killed on Thursday in Palestinian attacks.
The United States has called for both sides to take “concrete steps” to reduce tension, end provocative rhetoric and ensure access to Jerusalem holy sites.
US officials said Kerry would travel to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah on Tuesday for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
But they admitted they were not expecting to strike any new agreement on a return to peace talks, and would simply try to walk the parties back from the immediate conflict.
Until two years ago, the United States was the leading mediator in peace negotiations designed to leave Israel and Palestinians living side-by-side as two independent states.
That process collapsed. US officials stressed that they have no plans to revive it, and are simply trying to cool tempers and tamp down the current outbreak of violence.
“There’s no agreement to be reached between the parties right now,” a senior US official said.
“We’re trying to encourage both of them to do the kind of things we think will be helpful and in their interests.”
Kerry met Netanyahu in Washington earlier this month and urged him to “improve conditions for the Palestinians and try to get things moving in a more positive direction.”
“Nothing concrete has come out of that yet,” the US official admitted, adding only that a “variety of ideas were talked about” without getting into specifics.
The situation with the Palestinian leadership is even less promising, and Kerry’s talks with Abbas will focus on how “to prevent the Palestinian authority from collapsing.”
The Americans have been pushing Abbas and the Palestinian leadership to tone down their angry rhetoric, arguing that this fuels the unrest and inspires lone wolf attackers.
“The secretary has talked about incitement before and we’ll obviously stress that,” the official said, in an anonymous briefing to reporters before the trip.
Last month, Kerry met Jordan’s King Hussein in Amman and endorsed a plan to install security cameras around the Al-Aqsa mosque on Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif Temple Mount.
Netanyahu agreed that such a plan would be in Israel’s interest too, and Kerry argued that it would provide greater transparency about incidents at the holy sites.
But the Jordanian-run trust or “Waqf” that administers the site complained that Israeli police had blocked them from installing the cameras, and negotiations are continuing.
“They are having meetings of technical teams, the Israelis and the Waqf, about the logistics,” the US official said. “So I think that’s proceeding exactly as we intended.”
Kerry’s meeting with Netanyahu will be his first since Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American former US navy analyst who sold secrets to Israel, was released after more than 30 years in a US jail. The case was a major bone of contention between the two allies, and Netanyahu had long been pushing for his release.
Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and his family says he wants to settle in
Israel, but under the terms of his release he cannot leave America for five years.
His lawyers have challenged this, but US diplomats said they did not expect the issue to cloud the talks.
The White House said on Friday that President Barack Obama would not intervene with the Justice Department to alter the terms of Pollard’s parole.
Kerry leaves Boston on Sunday and flies to the United Arab Emirates, where he will meet with Arab foreign ministers advancing plans to end the Syrian civil war.
From Abu Dhabi he will fly on to Israel.