US Secretary of State John Kerry will return to the Middle East late next week.
Kerry will hold talks on the peace process with Palestinian and Israeli officials, the US State Department said Saturday. The top US diplomat is set to arrive on January 1st.
The visit will come shortly after Israel’s scheduled released of a third group of Palestinian prisoners and amid a row over reported plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to authorize construction of 1,400 homes over the pre-1967 Green Line — 600 of them in Jerusalem, and 800 in West Bank settlements. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has urged the US to block the plans.
“Kerry has told the Palestinian Authority he will return to the region on January 4 to discuss the peace process and negotiations with Israel,” the official was quoted as saying.
Ahead of his upcoming visit, Kerry is expected to present both sides with a written framework agreement for resolving the long-standing conflict between them, while unveiling Palestinian demands for a final deal.
Last week, Arab League Assistant Secretary General Mohammad Sbeih said that Abbas and other Arab officials revealed to an Arab League meeting of foreign ministers that Kerry would present the plan on December 31, according to a report in the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
Abbas told the meeting that he would not respond to the Kerry proposal immediately, but would instead present it first to Arab countries in order to come to a joint decision.
Many of the demands Abbas is said to be making for a permanent accord, meanwhile, run counter to reported Israeli requirements for a deal.
Israel has been demanding that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish State, for instance, which Abbas will refuse, according to the report.
Israel has also insisted upon the continued presence of Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley. Sbeih said that Abbas would not agree to even one Israeli soldier on the Palestinian-Jordanian border, but that he would be open to an international force stationed there — something Netanyahu has rejected.
Sbeih also indicated that Abbas refuses to acquiesce to a completely demilitarized Palestinian state.
Abbas would consent to a three-year Israeli military withdrawal process from the territories, according to an agreed upon timeline, the Arab League official said.
The PA president would demand control of all East Jerusalem, which would become the Palestinian capital, and would also be open to one-for-one land swaps to adjust the Green Line, provided the territory to be swapped was of equivalent value.
Under heavy US pressure, Israel and the Palestinians resumed negotiations in July after a three-year hiatus. The sides have reportedly met more than 20 times since and Kerry has traveled to the region no fewer than nine times in recent months to further talks, though officials have reportedly complained that talks are at a dead-end.
Kerry has been pushing for a framework agreement that would outline particulars of a permanent status accord to resolve core issues — Israeli security, Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian state, and the Palestinian refugees.
As a preliminary step to the agreement, Kerry proposed a security plan earlier this month to mollify Israeli concerns about control over the Jordanian border and Jordan Valley area.
Among its key elements, the US security plan reportedly provides for a series of border crossings along the Jordan Valley border between the West Bank and Jordan which would be jointly controlled by Israel and the PA. The entire border itself, however, would remain under full Israeli control, for the next 10-15 years, with the IDF joined only by a symbolic Palestinian security presence.
The US, under the proposal, would provide an additional security “envelope,” which would utilize drones and other high-tech equipment to provide real-time intelligence on any terrorist threats and other unlawful border activity.
Last Saturday the Arab League rejected the security plan at an emergency meeting of its foreign ministers in Cairo that was called by Abbas.
Kerry was last in the region earlier this month as Israel and neighboring countries were hit by a severe winter storm. He met with Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Abbas.
The Associated Press and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.