JERUSALEM — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Israel for separate meetings Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. He hopes to press forward with a recently-revived peace initiative, though both sides' positions seemingly remain far apart.
Netanyahu said prior to Kerry's visit that he is committed to the peace talks, but he said his government's positions remain the same.
"For peace to happen between us and our Palestinian neighbors, they must acknowledge the right of the Jewish people to have their own state in its homeland. This means they must recognize a permanent solution and withdraw their nationalistic demands," said Netanyahu.
Israel last week released 26 Palestinian militants serving lengthy prison terms as part of the deal that revived the peace talks three-months-ago. It is to release 52 more next year.
Palestinians rejoiced at the prisoner release, but were angered when Israel announced more construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Fatah Spokesman Ahmad Assaf called it a violation of Palestinian rights and international agreements.
"What we need now is to hear a clear American position to oblige Israel to accept the needs of peace and to stop this dangerous threat to the process," said Assaf.
Kerry has pushed a timetable for the talks to conclude in six months. There is little optimism on either side, said the head of the Institute for National Security Studies, Amos Yadlin. "I'm still thinking that reaching an agreement will be more like a miracle. The chances at the end of the nine months that we will not see an agreement are higher than the chances we will see an agreement."
He said an interim accord could be possible. "It's always better to have negotiations than no negotiations. But I'm taking it further than that. I think the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not the main problem in the Middle East is now clear to everybody."
Yadlin said turmoil in Syria, Egypt, Libya and other parts of the region has overshadowed the peace process. And that, analysts say, is likely to be the case for some time.