Citing Progress, Kerry May Extend Visit for Further Talks With Netanyahu, Abbas

U.S. secretary of state is encouraged by three days of intensive talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, officials say.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is considering staying in Israel for further talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Monday, senior U.S. and Israeli officials told Haaretz.

Kerry is encouraged by three days of intensive talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas, the officials said.

Kerry will leave Israel this morning for Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where he will brief leaders on the Israeli-Palestinian talks, as part of American efforts to guarantee Arab support for peace efforts. The U.S. secretary of state will return to Jerusalem on Sunday night and is considering staying until Monday afternoon for another round of talks with Ramallah and Jerusalem.

Martin Indyk, the U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, will fly to Cairo to brief Egyptian leaders. Next weekend, Kerry is due to meet a delegation of Arab League foreign ministers.

Kerry told reporters on Saturday that Israel and the Palestinians are making progress toward reaching a framework peace agreement, but are not there yet. He hopes to present an American plan to the sides by the end of the month, a plan that would be the basis for progress in the negotiations.

“I am confident that the talks we have had in the last two days have already fleshed out and even resolved certain kinds of issues and presented new opportunities for others,” he said, after meeting Abbas in Ramallah. “It’s a tough process, step by step, day by day.”

Kerry is considering further meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas due to his impression that progress was made in the past few days. A senior U.S. official said that, in contrast to the pessimism of Abbas’ advisers regarding the framework agreement, Abbas himself continues to be positive and would accept the American plan.

Since arriving in Israel last Thursday, Kerry has held three meetings with each of the leaders, with each meeting lasting more than three hours. A U.S. official said that Kerry did not present the leaders with a written draft, but discussed American ideas for the framework, which would address all core issues – borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, mutual recognition, the finality of the conflict and demands.

One of the issues in the talks was the reservations both sides wish to present as various clauses in the framework. A senior official said that the United States was willing to allow both sides to present their reservations but only as part of the paper, not a separate appendix, which, in effect, would contradict the framework’s wording.

“It is essential that if there are reservations, they will be part of the framework, not a separate part. Otherwise, it would damage the agreement,” the official said. “For example, if the framework includes a clause stating that the negotiations will be based on the 1967 borders, we cannot agree to a reservation stating that one of the sides opposes this.”

On Friday, Kerry met with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who continued to express support of the American move. Lieberman told Kerry that he greatly appreciates the efforts he is investing in brokering a solution to the conflict and promoting calm in the region, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Continued dialogue with the Palestinians is of great importance,” Lieberman told Kerry, according to the statement.

The foreign minister also told Kerry that an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must be based on solid foundations of security for Israel and a stable economy for the Palestinians.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Israel for his tenth visit in a year, Jan. 2, 2014Credit: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

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