Kerry Acknowledges 'Years Of Disappointments' In West Bank

Skepticism, cynicism, maybe some hope? Secretary of State John Kerry met with political leaders in Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank this week in his effort to restart direct peace talks between the two parties. As NPR's Emily Harris tells host Scott Simon, this visit brought no concrete plan, but one is expected next month.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Secretary of State John Kerry met with political leaders in Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank this week in his effort to try to restart direct peace talks between the two parties. NPR's Emily Harris is in Jerusalem. Emily, thanks for being with us.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: So if not a concrete plan, is somebody pouring the concrete?

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: It seems that Secretary Kerry is ready for the Israelis and the Palestinians to start pouring the concrete. He spent two days going back and forth between meetings with the Israeli prime minister and president here in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority president and prime minister in the West Bank in Ramallah. And afterwards he made a point of saying that both sides know what the choices are, they know what is needed to move forward, and it's time, he said, for those governments to make decisions.

SIMON: What do they need to decide? What to talk about to begin with, I would imagine?

HARRIS: Well, from what Kerry said, basically, they need to decide whether they really do want to talk to each other or not. There is a lot of talk about issues that may or may not need to be addressed before direct talks can begin, but the secretary emphasized that he thinks a lot of these issues can be resolved and should be resolved in direct talks. For example, Israeli settlements on the West Bank on land the Palestinians say should be part of a future Palestinian state.

Kerry says, work that out as you're working out the lines and the laws of that future Palestinian state. And then on the Israeli side, security is the government's major concern and Kerry mentioned that the sense of security that a lot of Israelis enjoy more or less routinely now, certainly much more routinely than not so many years ago when bombs were going off on busses and in cafes, and he alluded to this as perhaps slowing the Israeli drive to negotiate and said that the opportunity for peace is not really on the tips of everyone's tongue, he said, and Israel people aren't waking up every day and wondering if there will be peace because there is a sense of security.

SIMON: How important is it for Secretary Kerry to succeed?

HARRIS: There was a funny moment that I think captured this a bit. Before his meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, President Peres said to Secretary Kerry that he knows that Kerry's burden is very heavy and President Peres said: If you will succeed, it will be our success. If you miss, we shall miss. We shall stand by your side. And here's what Secretary Kerry said in response.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: You said if you succeed or if you fail - it's not me, Mr. President. It really is a question of whether Israel and the Palestinians make the choices.

HARRIS: That was Secretary Kerry who just before going into talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres, and he reiterated that before he left Israel that it's up to the Palestinians and Israelis to decide.

SIMON: NPR's Emily Harris. Thanks very much.

HARRIS: Thanks, Scott.

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