Palestinians: Kerry Close to Getting Israeli-PA Peace Talks Back on Track

Two Ramallah officials say that U.S. Secretary of State will soon announce resumption of negotiations; no comment from Jerusalem.

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Palestinian officials said Thursday that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is closing in on an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to relaunch peace talks for a period of six to nine months.

Kerry announced this week that he had narrowed the gaps between the sides. He is expected back in the region in the near future.

The Palestinians want Israel to halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem before talks resume.

Two Palestinian officials familiar with the negotiations said that Kerry has floated a compromise in which Israel would freeze settlement construction outside of major "blocs" that Israel expects to keep. These blocs are mostly located along Israel's pre-1967 border.

"Kerry is trying to pave the way for relaunching the peace process. He is serious and we encouraged him. He made progress and we hope he can conclude a deal in the coming week," said one official.

While Israel would not explicitly commit to returning to its 1967 lines, negotiations would be based on a May 2011 policy speech by President Barack Obama. That speech called for a border based on the 1967 lines, with modifications based on mutually agreed "land swaps," while also urging the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. Abbas has repeatedly rejected Israeli calls to recognize the country as the Jewish state, fearing it would undermine the rights of Palestinian refugees displaced from properties inside Israel.

Kerry's plan also calls on Israel to release about 100 of the longest-held Palestinian prisoners in its jails in several stages, and envisions a $4 billion international investment plan, conducted in various stages, to develop the struggling Palestinian economy.

The idea would be that within six to nine months the sides could pursue an agreement on all outstanding matters, including final borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees and resolving the competing claims to East Jerusalem.

The Palestinian officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media. Kerry has ordered both sides to remain quiet in order not to disrupt the negotiating process.

The officials said Abbas has not yet accepted Kerry's proposal, and is still pushing for a complete halt to settlement construction. But earlier this week, Abbas announced he was "optimistic" about Kerry's efforts.

Israeli officials had no immediate comment.

John Kerry, left, and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat ahead of a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, June 30, 2013.Credit: AP

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