Kerry set to announce four-way peace summit, Jordanian reports claim
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Kerry set to announce four-way peace summit, Jordanian reports claim

Secretary heads back to Jerusalem for third meeting with Netanyahu in 72 hours, amid unconfirmed reports of progress and ahead of a Sunday press conference

US Secretary of State John Kerry waits for departure after boarding a Jordanian helicopter in Jerusalem, en route to Amman, Jordan, to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Saturday, June 29, 2013. (photo credit: AP /Jacquelyn Martin)
US Secretary of State John Kerry waits for departure after boarding a Jordanian helicopter in Jerusalem, en route to Amman, Jordan, to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Saturday, June 29, 2013. (photo credit: AP /Jacquelyn Martin)

US Secretary of State John Kerry kept up his frenetic Mideast diplomacy Saturday, shuttling again between Palestinian and Israeli leaders in hopes of restarting peace talks.

Kerry was set to hold a press conference Sunday in Jerusalem. Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour reported that he was expected to announce a four-way summit between Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan, and the US, and the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but offered no official source for the report.

Kerry met for two hours with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, Jordan in what was their second set of discussions in two days.

He planned more talks in the evening with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem after the two held two meetings over the past two days.

“Working hard,” is all Kerry would say when a reporter asked him before the latest Abbas meeting whether or not he was making progress.

US, Israeli, and Palestinian officials have declined to disclose details of the talks, but several foreign media outlets have reported on developments apparently fed by leaks.

According to Chinese News Agency Xinhua, Abbas told Kerry on Friday that Israel’s goodwill gestures were too insufficient for the resumption of peace talks.

“What Israel offers in terms of releasing a limited number of prisoners and increasing the Palestinian Authority’ s influence in the West Bank is not enough for President Abbas to accept returning to the negotiating table,” the news agency quoted a Palestinian official as saying.

The official reportedly said Israel would have to freeze settlement building and accept a two-state solution with pre-1967 borders for talks between the two sides to continue, adding that Abbas had told Kerry as much during their meeting in Amman.

Meanwhile, Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour quoted a Palestinian official saying Kerry had in fact managed to secure Israel’s agreement to hold limited talks in order to discuss a possible settlement construction freeze, the marking out of borders for a future Palestinian state, and the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. The paper did not say when the talks would start or how long they would last.

A report on Israel’s Channel 2 news Friday evening said Kerry is bidding to broker a series of at least three meetings between Netanyahu and Abbas at the start of new direct peace talks, and is seeking guarantees from the Israelis and the Palestinians that a new peace effort will not quickly fall apart, as happened with the last resumption of negotiations in 2010.

Kerry, who is on a two-week swing through the Mideast and Asia, has conducted the meetings at a breakneck pace. He even cancelled a stop in Abu Dhabi because of extended discussions on the Mideast peace process.

He had a four-hour dinner meeting with Netanyahu Thursday night in Jerusalem, followed by a more than two-hour lunch with Abbas on Friday in Amman at the home of the Palestinian ambassador to Jordan. Then it was back to Jerusalem for another meeting with Netanyahu and dinner with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

On Saturday morning, he boarded a helicopter to fly back to Amman to meet again with Abbas, this time at the Palestinian president’s residence there.

Later Saturday, he was to return to Jerusalem to meet with Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, and Isaac Molho, a Netanyahu envoy.

Kerry is scheduled to leave Jerusalem on Sunday to head to Brunei for a Southeast Asia security conference.

There is deep skepticism about Kerry’s ability to get the two sides to agree on a two-state solution, something that has eluded presidents and diplomats for years. But the flurry of meetings has heightened expectations that the two sides can be convinced to at least restart talks, which broke down in 2008.

So far, there have been no public signs that the two sides are narrowing their differences.

In the past, Abbas has said he won’t negotiate unless Israel stops building settlements on war-won lands or accepts its 1967 lines — before the capture of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem in a Mideast war that year — as a starting point for border talks. The Palestinians claim all three areas for their future state.

Netanyahu has rejected the Palestinian demands, saying there should be no pre-conditions for talks.

Abbas made significant progress with Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, in talks in 2007 and 2008, but chose not to accept Olmert’s 2008 peace offer, under which Israel would have left the West Bank with one-for-one land swaps, and divided Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has adopted much tougher starting positions than Olmert, refusing to recognize Israel’s pre-1967 frontier as a baseline for border talks. Abbas and his aides suspect Netanyahu wants to resume talks for the sake of negotiating and creating a diplomatic shield for Israel, not in order to reach an agreement.

Netanyahu has said all issues can be discussed in direct talks, but has ruled out pre-conditions, and fears Abbas will abandon any new talks, blame israel, and turn to the UN for recognition for the Palestinians.

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