John Kerry arrives in Middle East to push for peace talks, again

JERUSALEM — US Secretary of State John Kerry is doubling-down on efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. 

He will arrive in the region Thursday evening, and is expected to meet Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders in Jerusalem and Amman in the coming days. 

Kerry's visit is his fifth in as many months, part of a larger diplomatic effort to bring the two sides to the table for peace talks. 

Ahead of the visit, Israelis and Palestinians blamed each other for the logjam.

"The ball is in the other court," said senior Palestinian official in the Fatah movement, Jibril Rajoub, in an interview with Israel Radio. "Does [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu really believe in two states for two peoples? Are we going to negotiate to resolve the conflict, or just to manage it? 

Speaking on Israel Radio Thursday morning, senior Palestinian official Jibril Rajoub said: “The ball is in the other court. Does Netanyahu really believe in two states for two peoples? Are we going to negotiate to resolve the conflict, or just to manage it?"

"If we truly see that the other side is going in the direction of two states for two peoples, believe me, we’ll meet them halfway," he said.  

In an interview with the Washington Post last week, Netanyahu said something similar. 

“If Secretary Kerry, whose efforts we support, were to pitch a tent halfway between here and Ramallah — that’s 15 minutes away driving time — I’m in it, I’m in the tent,” the Israeli prime minister said. “And I’m committed to stay in the tent and negotiate for as long as it takes to work out a solution of peace and security between us and the Palestinians.”

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Despite the posturing, there are indications that Kerry's may be making progress. 

A senior cabinet minister close to Netanyahu was quoted in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz as saying that the Israeli premier is prepared to cede much of the West Bank to a future Palestinian state.

“Netanyahu understands that for a peace agreement, it will be necessary to withdraw from more than 90 percent of the West Bank and evacuate more than a few settlements,” the minister said. “He knows this is one of the things that will be discussed.”

Right now, the Palestinians are demanding a complete freeze on settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem before they agree to resume negotiations. 

Kerry has said that there is no deadline for resuming talks, he would like to see movement on negotiations “long before” the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly in September.