x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Kerry narrows gaps in Mideast peace talks

Glimmers of progress in John Kerry's efforts to revive the Middle East peace process emerge after meetings in Jordan. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

US secretary of State John Kerry, centre, Jordan's foreign minister Nasser Judeh, right, and Egypt's foreign minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, left, arrive for a meeting with the Arab League Peace Initiative in Amman.
US secretary of State John Kerry, centre, Jordan's foreign minister Nasser Judeh, right, and Egypt's foreign minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, left, arrive for a meeting with the Arab League Peace Initiative in Amman.

RAMALLAH // Glimmers of progress in John Kerry's efforts to revive the Middle East peace process emerged yesterday after meetings in Jordan with Palestinian and Arab League officials.

The US secretary of state said his latest proposals had been able to "narrow those gaps" between the Palestinian and Israeli positions on resuming peace talks.

Arab delegates said they supported Mr Kerry's initiative, "especially the new and important political, economic and security elements".

Palestinian officials said he had unveiled his plan to the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas during a five-hour discussion in Amman on Tuesday.

Mr Abbas will present details of the proposal to the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in Ramallah today.

Mr Kerry held talks again yesterday with Mr Abbas and was also expected to meet King Abdullah of Jordan.

A Palestinian official said Mr Kerry was determined to announce a resumption of talks before he leaves the region at the end of the week.

But another senior official said Mr Abbas and his colleagues were sceptical of returning to the negotiating table with Israel. He cautioned that the Palestinian leader "was under tremendous pressure to go back to peace talks from the US".

The official doubted the PLO executive would support a return to negotiations, primarily because Israel refuses to stop constructing settler homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. That has been Mr Abbas's key demand for resuming talks, but Israel's right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has consistently refused to do this.

Mr Kerry yesterday also urged Israel to consider carefully a 2002 Arab League peace initiative that it has rejected so far.

"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," he said.

The Arab League offered Israel normal relations in return for withdrawing from the territories it captured during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Mr Kerry convinced them to revive the proposal in April with an extra sweetener that would allow Israel to retain some Jewish settlements in return for exchanging portions of its own land to Palestinians for their own state.

But Mr Netanyahu reacted coolly to the renewed offer, and demanded instead that both Palestinians and the Arab world recognise Israel as a Jewish state - which the Palestinians refuse to do.

Mr Kerry is not scheduled visit Israel on this trip, his sixth visit to the region in as many months..

Both US and Palestinian officials have disclosed few details of the discussion between Mr Abbas and Mr Kerry.

A state department official said their meeting on Tuesday touched on a number of issues, including a US$4 billion (Dh14.7bn) economic development scheme proposed by Mr Kerry in May.

To be funded by private investors, the plan offers to help develop the Palestinian territories as an incentive to persuade Mr Abbas to return to peace talks.

Mr Kerry's visit to the region comes as Israeli officials grapple with new European Union guidelines that restrict cooperation with and funding for institutions involved with Jewish settlements.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by the Associated Press and Reuters

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