Violence flares as Kerry meets Netanyahu in Israel
A Palestinian motorist rammed his vehicle into a group of Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint on Tuesday, wounding three, Israel’s military said, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited for the first time in over a year, hoping to calm two months of deadly violence.
Kerry touched down amid a new rash of deadly attacks that have dampened any lingering hopes of renewed peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians during the Obama administration’s final year. Ahead of his trip, Kerry conceded he was coming without the ambitious agenda of past visits and was primarily focused on stemming the violence.
“There can be no peace when we have an onslaught of terror, not here, not anywhere else,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he welcomed the chief American diplomat.
With Netanyahu nodding, Kerry said Israel had a right and obligation to defend itself and that “no people anywhere should live with daily violence, with attacks in the streets with knives, with scissors, with cars.” At the same time, he said he would speak with the Israeli leader about how “to push back against terrorism, to push back against senseless violence, and to find a way forward to restore calm and begin to provide opportunities.”
Kerry will travel to the West Bank for discussions with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later on Tuesday.
The current spate of violence erupted in mid-September over tensions surrounding a sensitive Jerusalem holy site and quickly spread across Israel and into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Nineteen Israelis have been killed, mostly in stabbings. Israeli fire has killed 89 Palestinians. Israel says 57 of these were attackers, while the rest died in clashes with security forces.
The past week has been the deadliest thus far.
In recent months, Kerry and other U.S. officials have suggested a renewed peace push might be possible. Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton made unsuccessful attempts at brokering a two-state solution during their final months in office. But the rising death toll seems, for now, to have created an environment that makes a similar commitment by President Barack Obama unlikely.
Kerry told reporters traveling with him in the Middle East that the U.S. was prepared to re-engage in a serious peace effort, and said “we have ideas for how things could proceed.”
“But this street violence doesn’t provide any leader with a framework within which they can look their people in the eye and say, ‘There’s a reason to be sitting down and talking about this or that,’ “ he added. “People aren’t in the mood for concessions. They’re in the mood for being tough.”
Showing no signs of softening, Netanyahu told Kerry that Israel would fight “every hour” against those committing and inciting violence, linking his government’s efforts to the international campaign against the Islamic State group and other extremist forces.
“It’s not only our battle; it’s everyone’s battle,” he said. “It’s a battle of civilization against barbarism.”