U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced a “cautious measure of optimism” that a solution can be found to defuse deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Berlin, Kerry said it is time for both sides to move beyond “condemnations and rhetoric.” He added both sides must take concrete steps to stop the unrest, which has left at least eight Israelis and about 50 Palestinians dead.
Netanyahu reiterated his charge the violence is a direct result of Palestinian incitement, blaming Hamas, the Islamist movement in Israel, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He cited a Thursday incident in which he said “two terrorists tried to murder a bus full of school children.”
Israeli news reports say two Palestinians stabbed a Jewish man in Beit Shemesh, after initially trying to board a school bus.
Kerry stopped short of assigning blame for the ongoing violence as he began the talks with Netanyahu. “It is absolutely critical to end all incitement and all violence and find a road forward,” he said.
The violence, which erupted nearly a month ago, has stemmed mostly from Palestinians using knives, guns and vehicles to attack Israeli civilians and soldiers, followed by Israeli defense mechanisms and retaliation.
On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “not optimistic” after his talks with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He urged both sides to pull back from the brink of what he says could erupt into a full-blown Palestinian uprising.
“We will continue to support all efforts to create the conditions to make meaningful negotiations possible,” Ban said after meeting with Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah. “Our most urgent challenge is to stop the current wave of violence and avoid any further loss of life.”
Netanyahu has said Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership must stop “lying” about Israel – specifically, rumors that Israel is planning to take over an East Jerusalem holy site revered by both Jews and Muslims.
Israel says it has no intention to change the long-standing rules overseeing what Muslims call the al-Aqsa mosque or Noble Sanctuary, and Jews call the Temple Mount.
“The continued occupation and aggression against Christian and Muslim holy sites in east Jerusalem, particularly against al-Aqsa, opens the door to a religious conflict,” Abbas said Wednesday. “We don’t want it and we are warning over its consequences.”
The violence also stems from young Palestinians tired of the dim outlook for peace, little economic opportunity and Israeli settlements in lands they want for a future state.
Netanyahu created more controversy when he said a former Palestinian leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, talked Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler into slaughtering European Jews during World War II.
“Hitler was responsible for the Final Solution to exterminate six million Jews,” Netanyahu said just before boarding a plane for Germany on Wednesday. “It is equally absurd to ignore the role played by the mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a war criminal,” Netanyahu said.
Historians have long-disputed this claim and said Husseini, while pro-Nazi, had only modest influence with Hitler.
Later, Netanyahu walked back his comments, which had caused an uproar. He said he had no intention of absolving Hitler of responsibility for “his diabolical destruction of European Jewry.”
Berlin is the first stop of a four-nation tour for Kerry that also includes stops in Vienna and Riyadh.
Another focal point of his tour is Syria, and the steps needed to curb the country’s internal turmoil.
While in Germany, Kerry will also meet with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini.
VOA’s Mike Richman contributed to this story from Washington.