Kerry 'confident' Israel, Palestinians can strike peace deal by April

Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that Israel and the Palestinians are on track to reach a peace deal by the end of April.

"Both parties remain committed to fulfilling their obligations to stay at the table and negotiate hard during the nine-month period that we set for that," Kerry told reporters after separate discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on his overseas trip. 

Kerry traveled to the region Wednesday for the second time in a week to move negotiations forward with both sides. The trip marks the eighth one he’s taken there as America’s top diplomat. 

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"We're not talking at this point about any shifts in the schedule," Kerry said, referring to Israel’s planned release of Palestinian prisoners.

The terms of their release were agreed to in July when Kerry successfully reinvigorated the talks.

"We remain hopeful that we can achieve that final status agreement," Kerry said. "Why? Because we are absolutely confident that for both sides, and the region at large, peace can bring enormous benefits."

Despite Kerry’s confidence, Israeli and Palestinian leaders had recently suggested the talks have been deteriorating. The last direct meeting between each side’s negotiators, for example, was in early November.

On Monday, in fact, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his colleagues in the conservative Likud Party that the nation was not close to a security agreement with the Palestinians.

A week ago, Netanyahu’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum in Washington that he predicts a peace deal would not be reached in the next year.