In a major departure from current U.S. policy, Secretary of State John Kerry will not attempt to broker a deal between Israeli and Palestinian leaders during his three-day visit to the Middle East, a State Department official said. Kerry was set to depart on his trip Sunday in the wake of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people and injured hundreds more.
Kerry’s stops will include Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Israel, Ramallah in the Palestinian territories and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. While abroad, Kerry will discuss "bilateral and regional security issues, including Syria and the Islamic State group, and continue discussions on stopping the violence in Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank and improving conditions on the ground," said Department of State spokesman John Kirby in a Saturday press release.
A senior State Department official who spoke to the press on background Saturday confirmed Kerry will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during his trip. But he said the goal was not to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinian authority.
"We encourage both sides to take concrete steps genuinely demonstrating a commitment to a two-state solution," the official said. "So there’s a difference between saying we think that these are the kinds of things that need to be done to help stabilize the situation on a more sustainable basis ... and trying to broker some kind of an agreement between the parties to resume or continue negotiations, which is what we were doing two years ago."
The official also called the trip "part of an ongoing dialogue [the U.S. is] having with both sides, going back to the war in Gaza and before last summer, where we’re trying to remain engaged to try to restore calm and stabilize the situation as much as we possibly can.”
The official also confirmed the State Department is concerned about the recent uptick in violence between Israelis and Palestinians. A spate of attacks Thursday that left five people dead -- including one American -- were seen as disappointing after it appeared some progress had been made.
"We were happy to see that the violence seemed to have abated somewhat over the course of the last few weeks," the official said. "But then you obviously saw the violence spike back up again -- five people killed, it’s a terrible tragedy.” He confirmed authorities are working on logistics to place surveillance cameras at Temple Mount, a site in Jerusalem regarded as sacred in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, in an attempt to curb some of the violence. Only Muslims are allowed to pray at the site although members of other religions are allowed to visit.