US Secretary of State John Kerry ended a marathon round of shuttle diplomacy between Israelis and Palestinians yesterday without an agreement on restarting peace talks.
“We have had very positive discussions, very important discussions, for the last few days,” Kerry told reporters after meeting again with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“We agreed we have made real progress but we have a few things we need to work on,” Kerry said, without elaborating, but signaling the door remained open for further diplomacy.
Abbas made no comment after the session, held after Kerry met for six hours overnight in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Kerry was due to leave for Asia in the afternoon.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said there had been some progress, “but we can’t say there’s been a breakthrough” toward reviving peace talks frozen since 2010 by a dispute over Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Erekat said he would hold further meetings, after Kerry leaves the area, with US representatives to follow up on some issues raised during the secretary of state’s mission, his fifth to the area since taking office.
Netanyahu has repeatedly called on Abbas to return to negotiations.
However, he has balked at Abbas’ demand that Israel first halt settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas it captured in a 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians want for a future state.
An Israeli official, who asked not to be identified, said Abbas was also seeking the release by Israel of scores of long-serving Palestinian security prisoners as a goodwill gesture.
However, Netanyahu believed the issue should be addressed only after talks resume, the official added.
“Israel is prepared to enter into negotiations without delay, without preconditions, and we are not placing any barriers on the resumption of final-status talks on a permanent peace agreement between the Palestinians and us,” Netanyahu said in public remarks to his Cabinet.
Kerry met with Netanyahu and Abbas several times in separate locations since Wednesday.
For new talks to be held, Abbas has said Netanyahu must also recognize the West Bank’s boundary before its capture by Israel as the basis for the border of a future Palestinian state.
Israel, seeking to keep major settlements under any peace accord, has rejected those terms, deeming them preconditions, and has said its security forces would not be able to defend the pre-1967 frontiers.
A US Department of State official said Kerry’s discussions with Netanyahu and advisers in a Jerusalem hotel suite ended shortly before 4am yesterday.
Afterward, Kerry strolled through the deserted streets of the city accompanied by his security and one of his advisers on the Middle East, Frank Lowenstein.
Kerry is keen to get fresh peacemaking under way before the UN General Assembly, which has granted de facto recognition to a Palestinian state, convenes in September.
Netanyahu is concerned that the Palestinians, in the absence of direct peace talks, could make further moves at the UN session to get their statehood recognized, circumventing Israel.