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Efforts for Israeli-Palestinian talks complicated by tensions

November 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Tensions have been mounting between the U.S. and Israel over the Iran nuclear talks and recent stumbling blocks in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. Secretary of State: While I understand the skepticism, I don’t share it, and I don’t think we have time for it.

JEFFREY BROWN: That was Secretary of State John Kerry in July, announcing the restart of Israeli-Palestinian talks, aimed at reaching a two-state solution by next May.

JOHN KERRY: I’m convinced from my conversations today with Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as with President Abbas, that this is not mission impossible. This can happen.

JEFFREY BROWN: And that was Kerry in Bethlehem last week, pressing for progress, despite rising tensions. Only two days earlier, Israel had announced plans to construct 1,700 new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Palestinians angrily accused the Israelis of not negotiating in good faith.

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AHLAM SAMHAN, protester (through interpreter): We want peace and we want negotiations, but peace should be fair and guarantee the right of return, self-determination, a Palestinian state, the release of all prisoners, and settlement expansion should stop.

JEFFREY BROWN: Meeting with Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged it’s the Palestinians who’ve failed to live up to their promises.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israel: I’m concerned about their progress, because I see the Palestinians continuing with incitements, continuing to create artificial crises, continuing to avoid and run away from the historic decisions that are needed to make a genuine peace.

JEFFREY BROWN: But, on Israeli television, Kerry bluntly warned of what might happen if there is no progress.

JOHN KERRY: The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos. I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?

JEFFREY BROWN: Then, yesterday, the Housing Ministry announced plans to build another 24,000 homes in disputed territory. But, within hours, Netanyahu halted the move, saying it would create unnecessary confrontation with the international community.

Today, Palestine’s chief negotiator said the damage has been done and that his team is resigning. Hanging over all of this are the ongoing talks with Iran about its nuclear program, watched warily by the Israelis and other key regional players.