AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Thursday of a return to violence if faltering peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians ultimately fail. He also rejected suggestions that he scale back his ambition to salvage the talks and forge a final settlement and interim agreement.
Kerry has been shuffling this week between Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan in a frantic bid to get the peace negotiations back on track amid rising public anger among Palestinians over Israeli settlement activity and among Israelis over the release of Palestinian prisoners.
"What is the alternative to peace?" Kerry asked at a joint news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. "Prolonged continued conflict. The absence of peace really means you have a sort of low-grade conflict, war."
"As long as the aspirations of people are held down one way or another ... as long as there is this conflict and if the conflict frustrates once again so that people cannot find a solution, the possibilities of violence" increase, he said.
Kerry appealed for Israelis and Palestinians to take the peace process seriously and for their leaders to overcome differences that have hamstrung the talks since they began three months ago with the goal of reaching a deal by the end of April, 2014. He acknowledged the hurdles, but said he was convinced that both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were committed to the negotiations
"I am pleased to say that despite difficulties, and we all understand what they are, these discussions have been productive," he said.
"Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas reaffirmed their commitment to these negotiations despite the fact that at moments there are obviously tensions over one happening or another or one place or another, whether it is in Israel or the territories," Kerry said.
Earlier Thursday, Kerry told Jordan's King Abdullah II that his meetings had "created some clarity on some of the points."
He did not elaborate, but said at the news conference with Judeh that there was "significant progress in our discussions about a couple of areas of concern in the panorama of concerns that exist."
A statement from Jordan's Royal Palace said Abdullah, a close U.S. Arab ally, said final status talks involve "higher Jordanian interest," mainly a common border with a future Palestinian state, the fate of Jordan-based Palestinian refugees displaced in the 1967 Mideast war and Jerusalem, where the kingdom maintains custody over Christian and Muslim holy sites.
The king also called on the international community to help end unspecified "Israeli unilateral actions in the occupied Palestinian territories because they are illegal, illegitimate and constitute a real obstacle to peace efforts," the statement said. He was referring to Israeli government plans to build more settlements in the West Bank.
Kerry will see Abbas again Thursday night in Amman and then return to Jerusalem on Friday for a third meeting with Netanyahu in two days before continuing with his swing through the Middle East and North Africa in the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Morocco.
Kerry brokered the re-start of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which began three months ago. But little progress has been made.
The secretary has been hit with complaints from both sides during his trip while working to maintain an optimistic tone. On Wednesday he noted that in any negotiation "there will be moments of up and moments of down."
Tensions have been running high after Palestinians said a secret negotiating session on Tuesday broke down in a dispute over Israeli settlement construction.
The stalemate has prompted speculation that the U.S. may need to increase its involvement in the talks and present its own outline for peace — or lower expectations and pursue a more limited, interim agreement.
Tension was running high and on clear display after the Palestinians said a secret negotiating session on Tuesday broke down in an acrimonious dispute over Israeli settlement construction. Introducing Kerry in Bethlehem, the town's mayor denounced settlements as a "siege" on Palestinian land and people; Netanyahu opened his first meeting with Kerry by bashing the Palestinians for their behavior in the peace talks.
Kerry rejected the idea of an interim agreement, saying it had been tried before and not worked.
"An interim agreement, only if it embraces the concept of a final status might be a step on the way but you can't just do an interim agreement and pretend you are all the way there," he said.
The Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. They say they're willing to adjust those borders to allow Israel to keep some West Bank settlements as part of a "land swap."
Netanyahu opposes a withdrawal to Israel's pre-1967 lines, saying such borders would be indefensible.
He has also demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland, a condition they reject on the grounds that it would harm the rights of Israel's Arab minority and Palestinian refugees who claim lost properties inside what is now Israel. Netanyahu also rejects shared control of east Jerusalem, home to key religious sites and the Palestinians' hoped-for capital.
Associated Press reporter Jamal Halaby contributed to this story.