Kerry ends Middle East mission without agreement
But secretary of state says ‘real progress’ has been made on Israeli-Palestinian talks
US secretary of state John Kerry and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas brief the media after the meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Mr Kerry ended a shuttle diplomacy mission today without an agreement on resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks but said gaps had been narrowed. Photograph: Mohamad Torokman /Reuters
US secretary of state John Kerry ended a shuttle diplomacy mission today without an agreement on resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks but said gaps had been narrowed.
“I’m pleased to tell you that we have made real progress on this trip. And I believe that with a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach. We started out with very wide gaps, and we have narrowed those considerably,” he told a news conference before his departure at Tel Aviv airport.
Mr Kerry met with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Mr Kerry met for six hours overnight in Jerusalem with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr Kerry was due to leave for Asia in the afternoon.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said there had been some progress, “but we can’t say there’s been a breakthrough” towards reviving peace talks frozen since 2010 by a dispute over Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Mr Erekat said he would hold further meetings, after Mr Kerry leaves the area, with US representatives to follow up on some issues raised during the secretary of state’s mission, his fifth to the area since taking office.
Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly called on Mr Abbas to return to negotiations. But he has balked at Mr Abbas’s demand that Israel first halt settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas it captured in a 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians want for a future state.
An Israeli official, who asked not to be identified, said Mr Abbas was also seeking the release by Israel of scores of long-serving Palestinian security prisoners as a goodwill gesture.
But Mr Netanyahu believed the issue should be addressed only after talks resume, the official added.
“Israel is prepared to enter into negotiations without delay, without preconditions, and we are not placing any barriers on the resumption of final-status talks on a permanent peace agreement between the Palestinians and us,” Mr Netanyahu said in public remarks to his cabinet.
Mr Kerry has met Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas several times in separate locations since Wednesday.
For new talks to be held, Mr Abbas has said Mr Netanyahu must also recognise the West Bank’s boundary before its capture by Israel as the basis for the border of a future Palestinian state.
Israel, seeking to keep major settlements under any peace accord, has rejected those terms, deeming them preconditions, and has said its security forces would not be able to defend the pre-1967 frontiers.
A US State Department official said Mr Kerry’s discussions with Mr Netanyahu and advisers in a Jerusalem hotel suite ended shortly before 4 am (0100 GMT) today.
Afterwards, Mr Kerry strolled through the deserted streets of the city accompanied by his security and one of his advisers on the Middle East, Frank Lowenstein.
Mr Kerry is keen to get fresh peacemaking under way before the United Nations general assembly, which has granted de facto recognition to a Palestinian state, convenes in September.
Mr Netanyahu is concerned that the Palestinians, in the absence of direct peace talks, could make further moves at the UN session to get their statehood recognised, circumventing Israel.