JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted his Palestinian partner in peacemaking efforts Thursday, accusing him of embracing terrorists "as heroes," harsh words that clouded the start of Secretary of State John Kerry's tenth trip to the region to negotiate a peace deal he claims is "not mission impossible."
Kerry arrived in Israel to broker negotiations that are entering a difficult phase aimed at creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel. He had dinner with Netanyahu and planned to be in the West Bank today to talk with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Kerry is asking both leaders to make tough, highly charged political decisions in hopes of narrowing differences on a framework that will outline a final peace pact.
Netanyahu greeted Kerry at the prime minister's office and after the initial small talk, took aim at Abbas. He claimed Abbas' homecoming for Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails earlier this week had led more Israelis to wonder if the Palestinians seriously want to find a way to end the decades-long dispute.
"I know that you're committed to peace," Netanyahu told Kerry. "I know that I'm committed to peace, but unfortunately, given the actions and words of Palestinian leaders, there's growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace."
Netanyahu was referring to events after Israel's release on Tuesday of more than two dozen Palestinian prisoners convicted in deadly attacks against Israelis. Netanyahu has faced political pressure from Israeli hard-liners for agreeing to release a total of 104 Palestinian prisoners as part of the U.S.-brokered package to restart the peace talks.
As with earlier releases, the Palestinian prisoners received a hero's welcome on their return to the West Bank and Gaza. But Abbas, a long-standing critic of violence who has pledged his commitment to a two-state solution, did not condone the prisoners' deeds.
Netanyahu, however, accused him of embracing terrorists "as heroes."
"This is not the way to achieve peace," Netanyahu said.