PA officials say Kerry making real progress, predict resumption of peace talks in August

Jerusalem officials mum until PLO gives John Kerry final answer.

Kerry sits next to PA FM Malki at Arab League meet 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Kerry sits next to PA FM Malki at Arab League meet 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US Secretary of State John Kerry has made significant progress in his efforts to revive the peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel, Palestinian Authority officials said Wednesday.
The officials predicted that the peace talks would resume most likely after the fasting month of Ramadan, which ends in early August.
The officials refused to say why they were now less pessimistic than before. However, one PA official said that “for the first time, President Mahmoud Abbas heard some encouraging and positive things from Mr. Kerry.”
Another official in Ramallah claimed that Israel has agreed to release a significant number of Palestinian prisoners as requested by the PA leadership.
The PA had demanded the release of some 100 inmates who were imprisoned before the signing of the Oslo Accords about two decades ago.
The official also claimed that the Israeli government has agreed to a “partial and undeclared” freeze of settlement construction in both the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israeli officials had no comment on the matter.
Abbas and Kerry met twice in the Jordanian capital of Amman over the past 48 hours.
The first meeting, on Tuesday night, lasted for more than five hours, according to sources close to the PA president. The second meeting between the two took place on Wednesday evening, the sources said.
Abbas is scheduled to convene the PLO leadership in Ramallah on Thursday for a briefing on the latest developments surrounding the possible resumption of the peace talks.
Both Kerry and Abbas held separate meetings with members of the Arab League ministerial committee in Amman to brief them on the continued efforts to revive the peace process.
Kerry, following his meeting with the committee, urged Israel to carefully consider the 2002 Arab League peace initiative, in a comment that could presage this initiative becoming part of the terms of reference for restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
“Israel needs to look hard at this initiative, which promises Israel peace with 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations – a total of 57 nations that are standing and waiting for the possibility of making peace with Israel,” he said.
The plan, put forward by Saudi Arabia at an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002, offered full recognition of Israel – but only if it returned fully to the June 4, 1967 lines, including on the Golan Heights and in east Jerusalem, and to a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.
Softening the plan three months ago, a top Qatari official raised the possibility of land swaps in setting future Israeli-Palestinian borders.
Israeli officials pointed out that Jerusalem never rejected the plan, and that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said consistently that if the initiative is the basis of discussion, it is acceptable, but if it is considered a take-it-orleave- it dictate, it is unacceptable.
“Israel never rejected the plan,” the official stressed. “Our position has been nuanced.”
Kerry voiced confidence he was on track toward soon achieving a resumption of peace talks.
“We have been able to narrow these gaps very significantly. And so we continue to get closer, and I continue to remain hopeful that the sides can soon be able to come and sit at the same table.”
The Arab League endorsed Kerry’s peace efforts Wednesday, saying in a statement carried on the Jordanian news agency that it hoped this could lead to a two-state solution.
The statement said that the Arab League delegation in Amman affirmed “its support for Kerry’s great efforts to revive peace talks between the Palestinian and Israeli sides and pointed out that the ideas put forward by Kerry before the committee provide the ground and a suitable environment to start negotiations, especially in new and important political, economic and security issues.”
The League’s delegation “expressed hope that this will lead to a launch of serious negotiations to address all final status issues to end the conflict and achieve a just and comprehensive peace between the Palestinians and Israelis which will bless the region with security, stability and prosperity.”
Israeli officials interpreted that as an Arab League green light for Abbas and the PLO leadership to accept Kerry’s terms and go back to the negotiating table.
Neither US nor Palestinian officials have given details of the discussions between Abbas and Kerry, who is making his sixth visit to the region since he took office in February.
Israeli officials declined to comment on the matter until after the PLO leaders make their decision Thursday.
A positive Palestinian decision, if one were to emerge on Thursday or soon thereafter, would be the first tangible sign of progress in Kerry’s nearly sixmonth drive to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, now largely overshadowed by upheaval in Egypt and civil war in Syria.
Israeli officials said they were unaware of any plans by Kerry to visit Israel on his latest trip. They added, however, that Netanyahu and Kerry were in regular contact.
Reuters contributed to this report.