WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senator John Kerry, nominated to be the next U.S. secretary of state, said on Thursday he hopes for a revival of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The comment by the Massachusetts Democratic senator, whose Senate confirmation is regarded as a virtual certainty, suggests the United States could consider a new peace initiative despite the failure of President Barack Obama’s first-term efforts.
U.S.-brokered peace talks broke down in 2010 amid mutual acrimony. Since then Israel has accelerated construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem - land the Palestinians want for a future state - and the Palestinians have taken steps to gain greater recognition at the United Nations and its agencies.
“My hope is ... my prayer is that perhaps this can be a moment where we can renew some kind of effort to get the parties into a discussion to have a different track than we have been on over the last couple of years,” Kerry said at his confirmation hearing, noting it was unclear what government would emerge from Israel’s Tuesday election.
Israelis worried about housing, prices and taxes reshaped the Israeli parliament in the election, forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to woo the centrist Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party as his main coalition partner.
Final results were due on Thursday but they are not expected to differ significantly from published projections showing that Netanyahu’s alliance of his Likud party and ultra-nationalists secured 31 seats out of the 120-seat assembly.
In a surprise showing, Yesh Atid came in as runner-up with 19 projected seats in a parliament likely to include about a dozen parties in all.
Netanyahu’s weaker-than-expected results might limit his room for maneuvering against Iran and put his hard-line stance toward Palestinian statehood under renewed pressure.
Kerry repeated the long-standing U.S. opposition to unilateral actions by either the Israelis or the Palestinians, warning the latter against any effort to take Israel before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The Palestinians declared Wednesday they will have no choice but to complain about Israel to the ICC if it proceeds with plans to build housing on land they want for a future state.
“They are getting close to a line that would be very damaging if there were any effort to take Israel for instance, or any other country, to the ICC,” Kerry said. “That’s the kind of unilateral action that we would feel very, very strongly against and see it as extremely counterproductive.”
The Palestinians became eligible to join the ICC after the U.N. General Assembly upgraded the Palestinians’ status at the world body in November from “observer entity” to “non-member state,” a move that was widely seen as a de facto recognition of an independent Palestinian state.
After the November 29 vote, Israel announced it would build 3,000 more settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are areas the Palestinians want for a future state, along with Gaza.
The ICC prosecutes charges of genocide, war crimes and other major human rights violations. The Palestinians must first apply to join the court and once a member they could refer Israel for investigation.
Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Bill Trott