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Dec 15, 2014 11:35 AM

Kerry, Netanyahu meet as UN efforts heat up

The Associated Press

ROME (AP) Secretary of State John Kerry met Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the U.S. and Israel developed their responses to a draft U.N. resolution that would set a two-year timetable for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

Before departing for the talks in Rome, Netanyahu took a hard line and said he would not allow others to dictate conditions for negotiations that might compromise Israel's security. For the U.S., however, the issue is trickier.

The Obama administration is reluctant to do anything right now that can be perceived as interference in Israel's upcoming election in March, but it is being pressed by close allies to endorse a negotiating framework that largely adheres to U.S. policy.

That framework is in a Security Council resolution proposed by France that still hasn't been formally introduced. The draft speaks of the 1967 Mideast borders as the basis for dividing the land, which President Barack Obama has publicly backed, but it doesn't include key Israeli and U.S. conditions such as Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, said the Palestinians are planning to put a resolution in a form that can be voted on Wednesday, though the council is unlikely to vote immediately.

What that resolution says will depend on the outcome of the high-level negotiations in Europe, Mansour said.

He told a group of reporters Monday that the Americans are key.

They have two options: to negotiate on the Palestinian and French texts, or produce their own draft resolution, he said.

Mansour said the French draft is "very, very close to the Arab ideas" and includes a timeframe for negotiations, but the Palestinians "want to define clearly the end to occupation."

He stressed that the Palestinians will not return to direct negotiations with Israel and strongly support the French proposal for an international conference to promote a peace deal that would include the five veto-wielding Security Council nations, key Arab countries and others.

"We tried direct negotiations for 20 years and they failed," Mansour said. "That is history."

An American veto would upset Palestinians and perhaps some Arab allies frustrated by years of diplomatic gridlock. Several are fighting alongside the U.S. right now against the Islamic State group.

And it could also split the U.S. from close European partners that are seeking to broaden peace efforts after countless U.S.-led mediation failures. America's credibility as a peace broker could be damaged as a result.

At a White House meeting last week, Obama's top foreign policy aides were unable to agree on an approach to France's potential resolution.

One U.S. official familiar with the discussion said Kerry suggested steering away from the effort, while Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, supported working with allies to see if a compromise is possible.

The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said "the account of the substance of that meeting is inaccurate." She didn't elaborate.

Netanyahu made clear Monday he wasn't happy with France's proposal.

"The attempts of the Palestinians and of several European countries to force conditions on Israel will only lead to a deterioration in the regional situation and will endanger Israel; therefore, we will strongly oppose this," Netanyahu said in Rome.

Mansour warned that if the Security Council fails to act "there will be intensification of confrontation over Jerusalem" because of Israeli extremists, and the prospect of "a religious war and more devastation."

Kerry met the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany in Paris later Monday. The discussions continue Tuesday in London with top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and the head of the Arab League.

Beyond the activity at the U.N., Kerry is also pushing for both the Israelis and Palestinians to help end a spike in violence.

Support within Europe for France's proposal is unclear. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was making his case to EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday before his meeting with Kerry. French officials believe the U.S. opposes the draft right now, but they say they would consider making changes.

France's diplomatic push was prompted by a Jordanian resolution, on behalf of the Palestinians, last month that the U.S. finds much more objectionable. That proposal demands a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank within two years and full recognition of Palestine as a state, with no talk of land swaps or security measures.

The resolution appears to have stalled. If it were to move to a vote, Washington would almost surely veto it.


Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.


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