4:12 pm - Monday December 18, 2017

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Meet Israel, PA Leaders as Peace Talks Continue

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Kerry to Meet Israel, PA Leaders as Peace Talks Continue
Kerry to Meet Israel, PA Leaders as Peace Talks Continue

U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry is continuing talks with Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders, who he hopes can soon agree on a framework peace deal.

Kerry will meet Friday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, before heading to the West Bank for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Following a Thursday meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, Kerry said he was optimistic about finding a deal that could “clarify and bridge the gaps” between both sides.

“We are now five full months into this negotiation. We have always known that achieving peace is a long and complicated process. It’s a tough road. But this is not mission impossible.”

Kerry said a framework deal would be a “significant breakthrough,” though it would be less ambitious than his initial goal of reaching a comprehensive peace deal by April.

His visit – the 10th since March – comes as the Israelis and Palestinians accuse each other of sabotaging efforts to reach a two-state solution to their decades-old conflict.

Mr. Netanyahu questioned whether Palestinians are “committed to peace,” accusing them of failing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and “embracing terrorists as heroes.”

He was referring to the strong welcome that Palestinian prisoners received in the West Bank this week after being released from Israeli prisons as part of the peace process.

Meanwhile, Mr. Abbas has complained about ongoing Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, saying Israel is trying to take land that would be part of a future Palestinian state.

Israeli officials have said they will soon announce the construction of 1,400 new settlement homes, in what many see as an attempt to placate domestic anger over the prisoner release.

Palestinians have threatened to walk out of the peace talks if Israel does not stop the settlement construction, which the U.S. has also criticized as illegitimate and unhelpful.

There is also disagreement over U.S. proposals for security arrangements in the Jordan Valley, where the West Bank borders Jordan.

Israel is looking to keep troops in the Jordan Valley, saying this is essential for security reasons. Palestinians say this would violate the sovereignty of their future state.

Other key issues to be resolved include the remaining borders between the two states, the fate of Jerusalem, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Israel and the Palestinians resumed the peace talks in July after a three-year break, and have committed to continue the negotiations through April.

But even if a deal were to be reached between Israel the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, it is not clear how this would affect the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the hard-line Hamas group that has rejected the talks.

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