Kerry's latest trip is aimed at producing a “framework agreement” between Israel and the Palestinians that will lay the groundwork for a more permanent peace accord.
Netanyahu, though, used the occasion to raise serious new doubts about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' intentions toward Israel.
“Given the actions and words of Palestinian leaders, we have doubts in Israel that they are committed to peace,” he said.
Citing a laundry list of criticisms, Netanyahu said Abbas failed to condemn recent terror attacks against Israeli citizens, at least one of which involved an officer from the Palestinian security forces.
“A few days ago in Ramallah, President Abbas embraced terrorists as heroes,” Netanyahu said. “How can he say that he stands against terrorism when he embraces the perpetrators of terrorism and glorifies them as heroes? He can’t stand against terrorists and stand with the terrorists.”
Those statements send the wrong message to young Palestinians at a critical time, Netanyahu said.
“Instead of preparing people for peace, Palestinian leaders are teaching them to hate Israel,” he said, speaking before Kerry. “This is not the way to achieve peace. President Abbas must lead his people away from terror and incitement, towards reconciliation and peace.”
Kerry, acknowledging the distrust, said he “comes here with no illusions” and added that the two sides would have to make difficult choices over the next few weeks.
“We know what the issues are. We know the parameters and possibilities for peace,” he said. “The time is soon arriving when leaders will have to make tough decisions. In the weeks ahead both sides will have to make tough choices.”
During separate meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas over the next three days, Kerry said he would discuss “all the core issues” with each leader, including borders, security, refugees, mutual recognition and legal claims.
He said he hoped to build on the 20 rounds of talks he has helped facilitate over the last five months and stressed that the negotiations would reflect Israeli and Palestinian priorities, not those of the United States.
“My role is not to impose U.S. ideas but to facilitate the ideas of both parties,” he said. “We are five months into the peace talks. It's a long process but it is not mission impossible.”
Kerry also praised Netanyahu for following through with his promise to release Palestinian prisoners jailed before the Oslo Accords, despite intense internal pressure from Israelis. He then thanked Abbas for remaining committed to resuming the negotiations, despite opposition from other Palestinian leaders.
U.S. and Israeli officials say they don't expect any breakthroughs during this visit. Continuing his shuttle diplomacy, Kerry plans to return to the region in just one week for further talks.