John Kerry 'optimistic' after Israel chat

  • 23/10/2015
US Secretary of State John Kerry (Reuters)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (Reuters)

By Nicolas Revise and Jean-Luc Renaudie

US Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed "cautious optimism" about defusing the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian violence after four hours of talks in Berlin with Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu.

The two met as part of a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at halting the cycle of violence, which erupted on October 1 and has raised fears of a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Ahead of his talks with Kerry, the Israeli prime minister took a hard line, pointing the finger at Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for inciting the wave of attacks.

But following the four-hour meeting on Thursday (local time), Kerry said he had "a cautious measure of optimism that there may be some things that could be, in the next couple of days, put on the table".

The aim was to encourage all parties "that there is a way to defuse the situation and begin a way forward", he said.

State department spokesman John Kirby said "constructive proposals" had been raised at the talks, which included "steps Israel could take to reaffirm yet again the continued commitment to maintaining the status quo" at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Kerry said he discussed several issues with Netanyahu, which he would raise with Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah, who has previously played a key role in mediation between the two sides.

"If parties want to try – and I believe they do want to move to a de-escalation – I think there are sets of choices that are available," he said, expressing hope that "we can seize this moment and pull back from the precipice".

In the latest violence, two Palestinians attempted to board a bus carrying children in Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem, but were repelled by the driver and others. They then stabbed a passer-by, moderately wounding him, before being shot. One of the assailants was killed and the other was critically wounded, police said.

Since October 1, at least 49 Palestinians and one Israeli Arab have been killed, including alleged attackers. Eight Israelis have been killed in attacks.

Alarmed by the wave of violence, UN chief Ban Ki-moon made a surprise visit to the region this week to meet with both sides, but said on Wednesday he was "not optimistic" about finding ways to calm the situation.

On Thursday, he met Abdullah in Amman, where he stressed "the responsibility of Arab leaders to encourage calm and to ensure that this crisis does not get out of control".

Meanwhile in Berlin, Netanyahu met separately with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

And representatives of the Middle East Peace Quartet, which comprises diplomats from the UN, the EU, the US and Russia, are to meet over the situation in Vienna on Friday, Mogherini said.

Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Abbas of fanning the flames and has rejected allegations Israel has used excessive force in separate talks with both Ban and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The White House warned Netanyahu against "inflammatory rhetoric" after he claimed a Palestinian religious leader gave Adolf Hitler the idea of exterminating the Jews.

Responding sharply to the controversial claim, which the Israeli leader later backtracked on, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said, "I don't think there's any doubt here at the White House who is responsible for the Holocaust that killed six million Jews."

"We here continue to stress publicly and privately ... the importance of preventing inflammatory rhetoric, accusations or actions on both sides [that] can feed the violence."