(photo credit: Israel Sellem)
While there were reports in the Jordanian media on Saturday that US Secretary of State John Kerry succeeded in securing an agreement for an Israel-Palestinian-American-Jordanian summit later in the week in Jordan, Civil Defense Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the security cabinet, denied that such a meeting was imminent.
"To the best of my understanding, Abu Mazen (Abbas) is still demanding the same preconditions, which we have no intention of meeting," Erdan said.
Abbas has consistently demanded a complete cessation of new construction in east Jerusalem and in the settlements, a release of Palestinian prisoners incarcerated before the Oslo accords, and an Israeli agreement to use the 1967 lines as the baseline of the talks.
"The most significant thing for us is ensuring the security interests of Israeli citizens. We will not agree to demands as conditions for starting negotiations, " he said on Channel 2's "Meet the Press". "As a member of the security cabinet, I will vote against any demand to pay a price to begin the negotiations."
Kerry held his third meeting in 48 hours late Saturday evening with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, capping an intense round of shuttle diplomacy that also included two meetings with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman.
While neither the Israelis, Palestinians nor Americans released any substantive information about the meetings, it will become clear Sunday morning before Kerry is scheduled to leave for Brunei for a Southeast Asia security conference whether his efforts succeeded in paving the way for a renewal of negotiations.
Kerry may convene a press conference before departing to give an update on the situation. A Saturday afternoon press conference in Jordan was cancelled when he decided to return to Jerusalem after meeting a second time with Abbas.
Asked to characterize whether the sides were close to a breakthrough, one Israeli official said only that "very serious work is underway."
The Chinese press agency Xinhua on Saturday quoted a Palestinian official saying that Abbas told Kerry Friday that the Israeli goodwill gestures were not enough to resume negotiations.
According to the official, Abbas stood firm on his demand that Israel must freeze all construction beyond the Green Line and agree to a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines.
"What Israel offers in terms of releasing a limited number of prisoners and increasing the Palestinian National Authority influence in the West Bank is not enough for President Abbas to accept returning to the negotiating table," Xinhua quoted the official as saying.
Palestinian official Jibril Rajoub expressed his hope Saturday that the peace process would resume with all parties convening at the negotiating table.
"It's time to sit down together and talk and in my opinion there is no other solution or approach to dialogue than a two-state solution for two nations - a Palestinian state with a capital of east Jerusalem next to Israel," he said in an interview on Channel 2's "Meet the Press".
Rajoub asserted his view on the progress of the process and said " I think the ball is in Netanyahu's court. If he really wants to end the conflict on the basis of two states for two nations. Once we reach this conclusion - it will be possible to start on a new page. We will be neighbors instead of enemies".
Kerry's efforts began Thursday night with a dinner meeting with Netanyahu at Jerusalem's David Citadel that began at 8.30 and ended at 1.30 am. The two men first met alone, and then were joined by their wider teams. Netanyahu was joined by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians; Yitzhak Molcho, his envoy on the Palestinian issue; Ya'akov Amidror, head of the national Security Council; and Military Secretary Eyal Zamir, the military attaché.
On Friday he met for two hours with Abbas in Amman, and then returned for a second meeting with Netanyahu that went some two hours. He then had Shabbat dinner with President Shimon Peres.
On Saturday he cancelled a planned visit to Abu Dhabi and flew back to Amman for another meeting with Abbas, after which he returned by helicopter to Jerusalem for Saturday night's meeting with Netanyahu.
Kerry - now on his fifth visit since March - has said he would not have returned to the region so soon if he did not believe he could make progress. He has been guarded about his plans to break the stalemate, while warning time was running out.
He is keen to clinch a deal to resume talks before the United Nations General Assembly, which has already granted the Palestinians the status of a non-member state, convenes in September.
With the Middle East engulfed in turmoil from protests in Egypt to the Syrian civil war, which is spilling into neighboring countries, Kerry has said it is time for "hard decisions" by Israel and the Palestinians.
"It is urgent because time is the enemy of a peace process," he said in Kuwait last week. "The passage of time allows a vacuum to be filled by people who don't want things to happen."
Reuters and Jpost.com Staff contributed to this report.