WASHINGTON // John Kerry, the US secretary of state, yesterday said that a two-state peace solution between the Israelis and Palestinians must be reached within two years or the window of opportunity may be closed.
He said he had sensed a seriousness of purpose when he held talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the Middle East this month.
Testifying yesterday before the house foreign affairs committee, Mr Kerry said he would not publicly lay out a plan for peace in the Middle East. But he added that if nothing could be worked out over the next two years, the chance for a peaceful agreement establishing an independent Palestine might slip away.
His comments came on the day the departing Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister said that elections were the only way to unite rival leaders in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
In remarks broadcast on Palestinian radio stations, Salam Fayyad urged the leaders of the West Bank's dominant Fatah faction and their Hamas counterparts in Gaza to hold the national ballot stipulated in their stalled reconciliation agreement.
He described a proper election as the "the only way to reconstruct our political system and achieve our national goals". And he impressed upon listeners that reconciliation was a "cornerstone" for establishing a Palestinian state on the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
"Just like there can be no state without Jerusalem as its eternal capital, there can be no state without the Gaza Strip," he said.
The appeal by the former IMF economist followed his resignation as prime minister on Saturday, which has added more uncertainty to efforts by Washington to revive the peace process.
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the PA, reportedly wants to keep Mr Fayyad on as a caretaker premier for a few weeks as a gesture to Mr Kerry.
"It looks like the president will wait to see the result of the two months that Kerry has asked for, before he nominates a new prime minister," an official close to Mr Abbas said this week.
Admired by the administration of Barack Obama, the US president, and respected internationally, Mr Fayyad, a political independent, has not indicated when he intends to formally step aside.
He is widely believed to have resigned because of disputes with Fatah officials, including Mr Abbas, who chairs the faction, over his reform agenda and how to handle the PA's economic issues.
Mr Fayyad's call for Hamas-Fatah reconciliation may not sit well in the US and Israel.
Both countries classify the Palestinian Islamists as a terrorist group, and neither has accepted the reconciliation accord signed in May 2011 between Mr Abbas and the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal.
Since then, progress on implementing the agreement's terms – including holding elections – has been stymied in large part by factional bickering.
Animosity between the factions flared in 2007, when Hamas wrested control of Gaza from Fatah.
* With additional reporting from Reuters and the Associated Press