BERLIN — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday expressed a “cautious measure of optimism” following a four-hour meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about proposals that could help defuse the deadly wave of recent violence in Israel.
Kerry, his voice hoarse after an overnight flight and the lengthy talks, told reporters that he planned to raise the proposals with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah in meeting Saturday in Jordan’s capital, Amman.
“I come directly from several hours of conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu and I would characterize that conversation as one that gave me a cautious measure of optimism that there may be some things that may be in the next couple of days put on the table which would have an impact — I hope,” Kerry said.
“I don’t want to be excessive in stating that, but I am cautiously encouraged.”
Before their talks, both Kerry and Netanyahu condemned the wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis. Kerry urged an end to all incitement and violence. Netanyahu repeated earlier accusations that Abbas was to blame, saying the Palestinian leader was “spreading lies” about Israel and the status of the holy site at the centre of the tensions.
“There is no question this wave of attacks is driven directly by incitement, incitement by Hamas, incitement from the Islamist movement in Israel and incitement, I am sorry to say, from President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority,” Netanyahu told Kerry.
“I think it is time for the international community to say clearly to President Abbas to stop spreading lies about Israel,” he said. “Lies that Israel wants to change the status quo at the Temple Mount, lies that Israel wants to tear down the Al-Aqsa Mosque, lies that Israel is executing Palestinians. All of that is false.”
Netanyahu, however, has himself infuriated Palestinians by comments about a former Palestinian leader inspiring Hitler’s Holocaust.
Netanyahu said Israel was committed to keeping the status quo at the Jerusalem site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and home to the biblical temples. For Muslims, it is the Noble Sanctuary, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam and a national symbol for the Palestinians. The site, captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war, is a frequent flashpoint of violence.
The Palestinians accuse Israel of trying to change the status quo at the site, which allows Jews to visit but not to pray. They point to a growing number of Jewish visitors who seek an expanded Jewish presence and prayer rights at the site.
Netanyahu rejected those claims and said ending incitement was the only way to ease tensions.
“To generate hope, we have to stop the terrorism,” he said. “To stop the terrorism, we have to stop the incitement and I think it’s time the international community told President Abbas to stop the incitement and hold him accountable for his words and his deeds.”
Kerry was more circumspect and did not single out Abbas for blame. But he also did not address Netanyahu’s Holocaust comments.
“We have to stop the incitement, we have to stop the violence,” Kerry said. He said he had spoken to Abbas and Abdullah, who is charged with overseeing the Jerusalem site, in the past day and both assured them of their commitment to calm.
“I believe people want this to de-escalate,” he said.
Kerry added that these conversations would be “very important to settle on the steps that can be taken beyond the condemnation and beyond the rhetoric” to end the violence.
Kerry has said he wants clarity about the status quo about the site, but officials say he doesn’t believe that needs to be in writing.
With only a general outline of goals in these discussions, Kerry embarked on his five-day trip to Europe and the Middle East intending to listen as much as talk, as he steers attempts to restore relative calm in Israel and the Palestinian territories and revive efforts to spark a political transition in Syria.
After Kerry’s meetings with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Berlin on Thursday, he planned to go to Vienna for meetings Friday with the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia about Syria.