JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “completely upfront” about announcing new settlement construction during peace negotiations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Kerry told reporters in Brazil on Tuesday that Netanyahu told both him and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that he would be announcing “some additional building that would take place in places that will not affect the peace map, that will not have any impact on the capacity to have a peace agreement.”
“That means that it is building within the so-called blocs in areas that many people make a presumption – obviously not some Palestinians or others – will be part of Israel in the future. He has specifically agreed not to disturb what might be the potential for peace going forward,” Kerry said.
Talks between the Israelis and Palestinians reportedly got underway Wednesday at an undisclosed location in Jerusalem under a media blackout.
In Brazil, in answer to a reporter’s question, Kerry said he had spoken on Tuesday with Netanyahu in what he called “a very frank and open, direct discussion about the question of settlements.” He added, “The policy of the United States of America with respect to all settlements is that they are illegitimate, and we oppose settlements taking place at any time, not just the time of the peace process.”
Kerry also was scheduled to speak by phone Tuesday with Abbas.
The United States believes “it would be better not to be” announcing new settlement construction, Kerry said, “but there are realities within life in Israel that also have to be taken into account here going forward. President Abbas understood that coming into these talks.”
Kerry said there is “urgency” in getting to the final-status discussions of borders and security in the talks.
“If you resolve the borders of Israel – and you can only do that also resolving the security issues for Israel – you have resolved any questions about settlements because then you know what is in Israel and what is not,” he said. “And so the sooner we get to that discussion the better.”
On Tuesday night, Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal to restart negotiations.