JERUSALEM — With Middle East peace negotiations showing signs of lapsing into an all-too-familiar paralysis, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived here Tuesday night for a flurry of meetings aimed at jolting the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to reinvigorate the three-month-old round of talks.
An absence of progress on the core issues, an ill-timed Israeli announcement of plans to build or advance 3,500 more housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and grousing by Israeli and Palestinian officials about each other’s motives are contributing to a sense that the negotiations are sputtering, like so many previous efforts to bridge the gaps between the two sides.
“He is trying to give a push,” said a senior American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter, adding that the talks were bogging down “both because of short-term irritants and slowness at getting at fundamental issues.”
Kerry had been a tireless prod since the direct negotiations began in late July, meeting for hours at a time with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in neutral sites like New York, London, and Rome. But after a brief period of withdrawal to deal with other problems, he is returning to the region to throw himself back into the process.
His back-and-forth schedule bears all the hallmarks of shuttle diplomacy. Kerry is to meet Netanyahu here on Wednesday morning, then to drive to nearby Bethlehem, on the West Bank, to sit down with Abbas, before returning for dinner with Netanyahu. Kerry will circle back with Abbas in Amman, Jordan, on Thursday evening.
American officials have disclosed little about the details of the talks, though the senior official said that negotiations over Israel’s security and the economic development of the Palestinian-administered West Bank had emerged as bright spots in the discussions.
Until this week, Israeli and Palestinian officials had honored a pledge not to publicly discuss the internal discussions to avoid poisoning the atmosphere. But the first cracks in that facade have appeared, with Abbas bemoaning the lack of results in a speech and a senior Israeli official accusing the Palestinians of not negotiating in “good faith.”
The public criticisms from Abbas, in particular, complicate Kerry’s task, according to former diplomats, by raising the pressure on him to produce results on an accelerated timetable, which could strain his relationship with Netanyahu.
Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials said that in meetings in Europe last month, Netanyahu and Abbas both warned Kerry that the talks were close to an impasse.
A senior Israeli official agreed that Kerry wanted “to put more pressure on both sides.” This official also said the Obama administration had begun to realize it would likely need to present a framework for an agreement if the negotiations reach a “dead end.”