Kerry says progress in peace talks, more work needed
Published Saturday 04/01/2014 (updated) 05/01/2014 22:02
US Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement to the press after
a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas at the presidential
compound, on January 4, 2014, in Ramallah (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)
RAMALLAH (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Saturday he was making progress in tough talks with Israel and the Palestinians, but admitted more time was needed to agree a framework to guide the negotiations.
The top US diplomat emerged from his second round of talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas to say everyone was "working with great intensity" and commitment to try to overcome decades of animosity.
"We're not there yet, but we are making progress," Kerry said, adding he was to fly Sunday to Jordan and Saudi Arabia for talks with both countries' kings on the path forward.
"I'm confident that the talks we've had in the past two days have already fleshed out and even resolved certain kinds of issues and presented new opportunities for others," he said.
"We are beginning to flesh out the toughest hurdles yet to be overcome."
His 10th trip to the region has been clouded by bitter recriminations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, accusing each side of trying to scupper the talks.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat sought to counter snipes from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Palestinians were not serious about peace.
"No-one stands to lose more from failure than the Palestinians," Erakat told reporters, shivering on a chilly night in the courtyard of Abbas's West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.
"Failure to us is not an option. We really are doing everything humanely possible to ensure the success of Secretary Kerry."
And he urged Israel to "refrain from any acts that may prejudice us or preempt the outcome of permanent status negotiations, i.e. settlement activity and home demolitions."
After his talks with Abbas, Kerry returned straight to Jerusalem and met Netanyahu one-on-one before the two men were to be joined by their teams.
Direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations had been frozen for almost three years, but after intense diplomacy by Kerry the two sides agreed to resume talks in July and vowed to remain at the table for the next nine months.
'Pressure to recognize Jewish state'
With the late April deadline looming, Kerry has pledged to work even more intensively with the two sides in the coming months.
US officials have refused to release any details about the framework which would guide the next phase of the talks. Kerry acknowledged Saturday it would not be agreed during this trip.
But a Palestinian source, who is close to the negotiations but asked to remain anonymous, told AFP that Abbas had come under pressure to agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Abbas had refused, the official said.
Palestinian hopes of having a third, international force brought in to help patrol the Jordan Vally under a peace deal had also been sidelined, he said.
Instead the US was proposing a mixed Israeli-Palestinian military presence to ensure security in the area which borders Israel, without setting a deadline when the Israeli troops would be withdrawn.
Kerry has said a peace treaty will deal with all the core issues dividing the two sides. These included the contours of a future Palestinian state, refugees, the fate of Jerusalem claimed by both as a capital, security and mutual recognition.
"Kerry proposed a new formula to resolve the issue of Jerusalem, but it's not clear and is ambiguous, and therefore we can't accept," the Palestinian source added.
Under the proposal, a unified Jerusalem would be the capital of both states without defining the outlines of east Jerusalem, the official said.
Netanyahu had apparently agreed to the idea, he added.
The Palestinians want the borders of their state to be based on the 1967 lines from before the Six-Day War, when Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. They have also insisted there should be no Israeli troops in their future state.
But Israel wants to retain existing settlements it has built inside occupied Palestinian territory over the past decades. It also wants to maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley.