Fadi Arouri, Pool, Associated Press
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waded again into the nitty-gritty of faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Wednesday, saying he was optimistic that tensions and difficulties could be overcome, even as both sides traded barbs about who is to blame for the current poor state of negotiations.
"As in any negotiation there will be moments of up and moments of down," Kerry told Palestinians in the West Bank town of Bethlehem after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and before seeing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "But ... we are determined to try to bring lasting peace to this region."
"We are convinced that despite the difficulties, both leaders, President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, are also determined to work toward this goal," he said.
Yet tension between the two sides was running high and on clear display after the Palestinians said a secret negotiating session on Tuesday broke down in an acrimonious dispute over Israeli settlement construction. Introducing Kerry in Bethlehem, the town's mayor denounced Israeli settlements as a "siege" and Netanyahu opened his meeting with the secretary by bashing the Palestinians for their behavior in the peace talks.
"I'm concerned about their progress because I see the Palestinians continuing with incitement, continuing to create artificial crises, continuing to avoid, run away from the historic decisions that are needed to make a genuine peace," Netanyahu told Kerry as they started their two hour and 45-minute meeting in a Jerusalem hotel. "I hope that your visit will help steer them back to a place where we could achieve the historical peace that we seek and that our people deserve."
Despite Netanyahu's slap at the Palestinians, Kerry said he was optimistic that the difficulties could be overcome.
"I am very confident of our ability to work through them," Kerry said. "That is why I am here."
"This can be achieved with good faith and a serious effort on both sides," he said, calling on Netanyahu and Abbas to make "real compromises and hard decisions."
Kerry said he would continue to plug away despite the problems.
"We need the space to negotiate privately, secretly, quietly and we will continue to do that," he said. "We have six months ahead of us on the timetable we have set for ourselves and I am confident we have the ability to make progress."
After seeing Netanyahu, Kerry traveled to Bethlehem where he announced that the U.S. would give an additional $75 million in aid to create Palestinian jobs and help them improve roads, schools and other infrastructure. U.S. officials said the aid is designed to boost Palestinian public support for the peace process.
Once he finishes his talks with Abbas in Bethlehem, Kerry is to return to Jerusalem for a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres and have a working dinner with Netanyahu. On Thursday, Kerry plans to travel to Jordan, where he expects to see Abbas for a second time on his current mission.
After months of cajoling, Kerry persuaded Israel and the Palestinians to reopen peace talks in late July after a nearly five-year break.
But after being launched with great fanfare, the negotiations quickly ran into trouble with no visible signs of progress and both sides reverting to a familiar pattern of finger pointing. The goal of reaching a peace deal within nine months appears in jeopardy. Underscoring the challenge ahead, the Tuesday negotiating session broke down, according to a Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the pledge not to discuss the talks in public.
The official said the outrage over the settlement plans boiled over at a secret negotiating session with the Israelis in Jerusalem. The official said the meeting, held at Kerry's request, "exploded" over the settlement issue, and that the talks were abruptly halted. Abbas is expected to raise the matter with Kerry at their meeting in Bethlehem.
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