Kerry agenda in Israel has no plans for new peace talks, State Dept. official says


JERUSALEM (JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority is not planning to restart peace talks or broker any agreement.

Kerry will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to tamp down the current violence.

“We have called many times publicly and privately for the both sides to take concrete steps to demonstrate a genuine commitment to a two-state solution, and that’s what we continue to stress to them,” a senior State Department official said Saturday in a briefing ahead of Kerry’s visit to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramallah set to begin Monday. “We also talk, obviously, to both sides about steps that we think they can take that can help to reduce tensions.”

Kerry also will talk to Abbas about controlling incitement over the Temple Mount and about preventing the P.A. from collapsing, the official said.

The official referenced the recent spike in Palestinian violence against Israelis.

“Five people killed, it’s a terrible tragedy, including an American citizen,” he said of two deadly attacks that occurred Thursday. “We’re a bit concerned about that and said so publicly.”

In answer to a question about Netanyahu comparing the recent attacks in Israel to those in Paris that left at least 129 people dead, the official said that the State Department has encouraged both sides to “put an end to provocative rhetoric.”

He added: “I wouldn’t necessarily characterize what he said there as being provocative rhetoric in the sense of the violence on the ground here.”

Of the recent announcement of the marketing of nearly 500 Jewish housing units in eastern Jerusalem, the official said, “The Israelis have made settlement announcements repeatedly for decades now, and we continue to express our view very clearly publicly and very clearly privately on that. That would – and we continue to do that. That would not be a reason for the secretary to come on this visit.”

Netanyahu and Kerry are scheduled to talk about “a range of bilateral issues” following up on conversations they had in Washington, including on Syria and the Islamic State, according to the official.

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