Kerry rushes to peace consultations

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Secretary of State John Kerry broke off from a European tour with President Obama to attend to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process days ahead of a critical deadline.

Kerry flew to Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He also spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The meetings were extraordinary given the urgency of Obama’s mission in Europe — garnering support for U.S.-led isolation of Russia following its takeover of Crimea, a region of Ukraine.

The consultations come just three days before the deadline for Israel to release 26 Palestinian prisoners, the final stage of a prisoner release agreed to by Israel last summer to bring the Palestinians back to the talks.

A number of Israeli officials have said they are now opposed to the release because the talks are stalled in part because of Abbas’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas has said he will leave the talks if the release does not go through.

Kerry in recent months has attempted to solicit from Abbas and other Arab nations recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

The Arab League, meeting in Kuwait on Wednesday, rebuffed Kerry’s latest bid, according to the Kuwait News Agency, which said the group “expressed full rejection” of such recognition.

Abbas has said that such a recognition disenfranchises Arab-Israelis and has not previously been asked of any other country, including Arab countries with which Israel has made peace. He also notes that the Palestine Liberation Organization has recognized Israel multiple times since 1988.

Israeli leaders say recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would put to rest any future Palestinian claims to Israel.

Separately, Obama administration officials dismissed as groundless reports that the United States would release Jonathan Pollard, a spy for Israel sentenced to life in 1987, as part of a broader prisoner exchange aimed at advancing the process.

“There are no plans to release Jonathan Pollard at this time,” State Department spokeswoman Mari Harf said Wednesday.

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