Kerry Departs, Urges Israel and Palestinians to 'Make Hard Decisions'

U.S. Secretary of State considered holding another round of talks with two sides on Monday, but said now is not the right time; Israeli official says Israel is prepared to renew direct talks immediately.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left Israel early Friday afternoon following an additional round of talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom he discussed the possibility of restarting peace talks.

Speaking at a press conference at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Kerry said that he has considered holding another round of talks with the two sides on Monday morning but decided that the time was not ripe.

Netanyahu and Abbas have to take a week or two to make some difficult decisions that would allow peace talks to resume, Kerry said before his departure. He urged both sides to exhibit leadership in order for that to happen.

"We are reaching the time (when) leaders need to make hard decisions," Kerry said at the end of his fourth visit to the region in barely two months as he tries to overcome deeply entrenched positions that have snarled the peace process.

Kerry, who met with Netanyahu Friday morning, said that gaps still remained between the two sides. Israel is focused on security issues, while the Palestinians are more interested in defining the borders of a future state, Kerry said. There is only one way to realize the two sides' vision, he added: by resuming direct peace talks.

 "I made clear in my discussions that the parties should be focused on making progress toward ... direct negotiations," he said, adding that each side needed to "refrain from provocative rhetoric or actions ... that take us backwards."

A senior Israeli official called the meetings between Kerry and Netanyahu "productive."

"Netanyahu appreciates Kerry's efforts to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," the official said after Kerry's departure. "We welcome his comments calling for the renewal of direct talks between the two sides. Israel has already reached that decision – we are prepared to launch direct negotiations with the Palestinians immediately."

Kerry said that the subject of settlement construction had been discussed with both leaders and that the U.S. position on settlements is clear – the administration believes settlement construction must end.

The U.S. secretary of state also addressed Israel's decision to retroactively legalize some settlement outposts that has been slated for demolition, saying the Israeli government could change its position in the coming month.

Reuters