US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday launched a second day of talks with Israelis and Palestinians, seeking to hammer out a framework to guide negotiations toward a peace deal.
US officials have privately said they believe the direct talks resumed in July last year after a three-year hiatus have reached a new phase, as an April deadline for an accord looms, but are struggling to overcome fierce opposition from both sides to any compromises.
Kerry returned to Israel on Thursday for his 10th trip as secretary of state, and went straight into five hours of meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The two men were to meet again around noon yesterday, after Kerry and his team first held breakfast talks at his Jerusalem hotel with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Kerry was schedule to head to Ramallah later for discussions with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in the occupied West Bank.
However, Netanyahu on Thursday was downbeat on progress so far, launching a scathing attack on Abbas and casting doubt on whether he and the Palestinians were genuine in their desire for peace.
“I know that you’re committed to peace, I know that I’m committed to peace. But unfortunately given the actions and words of Palestinian leaders, there’s growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace,” he told a grim-faced Kerry.
Referring to Israel’s release of long-serving Palestinian prisoners as part of the talks, the Israeli leader said Abbas had “embraced terrorists as heroes. To glorify the murderers of innocent women and men as heroes is an outrage. He can’t stand against terrorists, and stand with the terrorists.”
Kerry vowed the US was committed to working with both sides “to narrow the differences on a framework that will provide the agreed guidelines for permanent status negotiations.”
“This will take time and it will take compromise from both sides. But an agreed framework would be a significant breakthrough,” he said.
US officials have refused to go into specific details about the framework, but have said they hope to conclude it soon.
The US administration has also not yet decided whether it will be made public, but it is unlikely to be signed by both sides.
Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes early yesterday launched a series of strikes on the Gaza Strip, after a rocket from the Palestinian enclave struck Israel.
An army statement said “aircraft targeted a terror infrastructure site in the central Gaza Strip and three concealed rocket launchers in the northern Gaza Strip.”
There were no immediate reports of casualties.