US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel on Thursday afternoon in a bid to further push the peace process forward.
Kerry is scheduled to meet separately with Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this evening to discuss his ideas for a framework
agreement that would serve as an outline for a final agreement.
A senior State Department official said Kerry was not expecting any breakthrough during
this trip, his 10th to the region since taking office in February. Rather, he
said, Kerry was pushing for the sides to agree on guidelines for what the final
deal would look like. Then the job would be to fill in the details.
is expected to remain in the region through the weekend, though no date has been
given for his departure.
During this time Israel is unlikely to announce
plans to build some 1,400 housing units beyond the Green Line, 600 in Jerusalem
and the rest in the settlement blocs.
Last week, in the run-up to Tuesday
morning’s release of 26 convicted Palestinian terrorists, the government
announced it would couple the prisoner release with announcements of further
construction, just as it did following the first two prisoner releases in August
No date, however, was given for the expected announcement,
which has already drawn a great deal of international
Israeli-US relations were badly strained in 2010 when Israel
announced preliminary plans to build homes in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo
Government officials have described the idea of a
“framework agreement,” which Kerry will push forward, as a way to ensure that
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – which began in late July, and were to last
for nine months – could continue beyond their late April
However, US officials were still not ruling out meeting the
late April deadline for a full agreement.
“It is a two-stage process in
our minds, agreement on a framework for negotiations and then a permanent-status
agreement or a peace treaty” by April, the State Department official
“We have established very well where the gaps are, but also
generated some ideas that could help to serve as ways of bridging those gaps,”
the official added. “The secretary’s trip this time is to start to test those
ideas with the two leaders.”
The official said Kerry “has a real sense of
urgency, a real sense of need to strike while the iron is hot. We consider the
iron to be hot. We’re going to work assiduously to try to reach this framework
agreement as soon as possible.”
The idea of a framework agreement was
first broached by US President Barack Obama at the Saban Conference in
Washington in early December. “It is possible over the next several months to
arrive at a framework that does not address every single detail, but gets us to
a point where everybody recognizes [that it is] better to move forward, than
move backwards,” he said.
The guidelines are widely expected to call for
the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines, with
mutually agreed upon land swaps, and for Palestinian recognition of Israel as
the national home of the Jewish people.
Abbas has said on numerous
occasions that he has no intention of recognizing Israel as the nation state of
the Jewish people.
The guidelines are expected to contain formulas for the
other core issues as well, such as refugees and Jerusalem.
But even as
Kerry prepares to resume his efforts, a PLO official announced Wednesday that
the Palestinians would reject any framework accord that is presented by the
“Kerry will try to market a mysterious and nonconstructive
framework agreement to the Palestinian Authority during his new tour,” said PLO
Executive Committee member Tayseer Khaled.
Khaled accused the US of
turning a blind eye to Israel’s practices on the ground in the West Bank and
He said that Israel’s measures undermined the peace
process and prospects of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state.
Ministerial Committee on Legislation would not have been able to recently
approve a bill supporting the application of Israeli law to settlements in the
Jordan Valley had it not felt that it had the backing of Kerry, Khaled
That bill, however, has little chance of making its way to the
Knesset any time soon, since it is very unlikely Netanyahu will bring it to the
cabinet for a vote.
The PLO official called on the PA leadership to
inform Kerry of its opposition to any framework or interim agreement with
Israel. He also called on the PA leadership to stop counting on American
sponsorship of the peace talks and demand international intervention, as was the
case with Iran and Syria.
Abbas, meanwhile, reiterated his threat to seek
UN recognition of a Palestinian state should Israel pursue construction in the
Addressing Palestinians on the 49th anniversary of the
founding of his Fatah faction, Abbas denounced settlements as a
He said that the PA maintained the right to use its status as a
non-member observer in the UN to take diplomatic, political and legal action to
halt settlement construction.
Abbas rejected the idea of reaching an
interim agreement with Israel, saying he insists on a final peace deal. “We are
negotiating to reach a solution that would immediately lead to the establishment
of a Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital, on all the lands that
were occupied in 1967,” he said. “We also seek a just solution to the case of
the refugees on the basis of UN Resolution 194, and the 2002 Arab Peace
Meanwhile, the United States has increased its financial aid
to the PA, but linked this aid to progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks,
Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported on Wednesday.
The American aid
will go from $426 million in 2013 to $440m. in 2014, said Maen Rashid Areikat,
head of the PLO delegation in Washington.
Despite the increase, the 2014
US aid is significantly lower than in previous years – In 2011, the US provided
the PA $545m. in aid money, and $495m. in 2012.
The United States Agency
for International Development provides funding for economic projects, security,
judiciary needs and promotion of government transparency.
Ahead of the
resumption of peace talks, Kerry introduced a $4 billion economic plan to
revitalize the Palestinian economy.
According to Kerry, the plan will
focus on developing the Palestinian private economy, a key ingredient for
economic independence.Reuters contributed to this report.