AMMAN, Jordan – U.S Secretary of State John Kerry met Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Saturday, following up on President Barack Obama's talks with each earlier in the week, but a return to negotiations did not appear to the main agenda item.
While making his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority as president, Obama pressed for a resumption in peace talks between the two sides, but a U.S. statement released after Kerry's meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not mention the matter at all. Instead, the four-sentence statement focused on an agreement between Israel and Turkey to normalize strained relations that Obama brokered on Friday.
The White House championed the rapprochement as a major success of Obama's trip, a view Kerry echoed.
"The reconciliation between Israel and Turkey is a very important development that will help advance the cause of peace and stability in the region," Kerry said in the statement. He said Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan "deserve great credit for showing the leadership necessary to make this possible."
"As I discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu this evening, this will help Israel meet the many challenges it faces in the region," Kerry said. "We look forward to an expeditious implementation of the agreement and the full normalization of relations so Israel and Turkey can work together to advance their common interests."
Once-strong ties between the Jewish state and NATO's only Muslim majority country have been badly strained since Israel's 2010 raid on a Turkish flotilla bound for Gaza that killed eight Turks. Israel had until Friday refused to apologize, drawing the ire of the Turks.
But with Obama listening in, Netanyahu called Erdogan from the tarmac of the airport in Tel Aviv on Friday to apologize for operational errors in the raid that led to the deaths. Erdogan accepted the apology and both said they would begin the work of restoring full relations.
Although Obama said that he had instructed Kerry to look into what would be needed to restart talks between Israelis and the Palestinians, Saturday's statement said nothing about peace talks. Nor did it even mention Kerry's Saturday meeting with Abbas, which took place in Amman, Jordan, before Kerry went to Jerusalem to see Netanyahu.
In Israel and the Palestinian Authority last week, Obama urged both sides to recognize the importance of restarting talks to end their decades-old conflict. But he rolled back earlier support for a Palestinian demand that Israel stop housing construction in disputed territory before negotiations begin. The new position has angered some in the Palestinian community who believe that Obama is biased in favor of Israel.