Saturday, July 20, 2013

Middle East talks back on track

US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Diplomacy: John Kerry (left) with Mahmoud Abbas. Photo: AP

After a stalemate of nearly three years, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators look set to return to direct, final-status peace talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

Following an intensive period of shuttle diplomacy, in which Senator Kerry made six trips to the Middle East since he was sworn into office in February, he announced the parties were expected to meet in Washington this week.

Mr Kerry said he and the parties ''reached an agreement that establishes a basis for direct final-status negotiations''.

He would not discuss any detail that might be a sticking point, such as the issue of the 1967 borders, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinian demands for a construction freeze in the settlements, and the release of political prisoners held in Israeli jails.

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''The best way to give these negotiations a chance is to keep them private,'' Mr Kerry said in the Jordanian capital, Amman, after spending the previous five hours on the phone to both sides before travelling to Ramallah to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the third time last week.

Mr Kerry praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr Abbas. ''We know that the challenges require some very tough choices,'' he said. ''Today, however, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because of the courageous leadership by President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Both of them have chosen to make difficult choices here and both of them were instrumental.''

It is believed chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and his Israeli counterpart, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, will travel to Washington this week for the resumption of talks.

Mr Kerry thanked the Arab League, saying its backing of his plan for restarting talks was crucial.

Peace talks collapsed in September 2010 after Israel's refusal to continue its temporary freeze on new settlement construction.

But Mr Netanyahu is facing pressure from right-wing coalition partner Naftali Bennett, from the Jewish Home party, who announced he would not stay ''even for a second'' in a government that negotiated on 1967 borders. Mr Abbas is also facing domestic pressure, particularly from Hamas, the hardline Islamist rulers of the Gaza Strip.


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