By Russell Berman - 01/04/14 11:40 AM EST
Kerry 'hopeful' amid negotiations with Israelis, Palestinians
Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters negotiators were “making progress” toward a framework for a Middle East peace deal as he met Saturday with both Palestinian and Israeli leaders in the West Bank.
“We’re not there yet, but we are making progress and we are beginning to flesh out the toughest hurdles yet to be overcome,” Kerry said in Ramallah after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, according to a transcript published by the State Department. He stood alongside Saeb Erekat, lead negotiator for the Palestinian Authority.
Kerry met for a second straight day with Abbas and planned to sit down later Saturday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The goal of the meetings is a framework for a final, peaceful settlement between the two sides that would result in the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
“I will say that we are working with great intensity, with serious purpose, with the commitment to trying to resolve this conflict that has gone on for many years too long, and which I think presents us now with the possibility of trying to find a framework agreement which would really lay out the end game and lay out the framework for the major issues to guide the negotiations from this point forward,” Kerry said.
He has other high-level meetings planned in Jordan and Saudi Arabia on the Middle East trip.
“I remain hopeful as I have been,” Kerry said, “and I am confident that the talks we’ve had in the last two days have already fleshed out and even resolved certain kinds of issues and presented new opportunities for others.”
Erekat praised Kerry, saying he had “exerted every possible effort” to secure a two-state solution for the parties.
“We’re working hard to achieve an agreement on all core issues,” Erekat said. “No one benefits more from the success of Secretary Kerry’s efforts than Palestinians, and no one stands to lose more of failure than Palestinians. Failure to us is not an option.”
He reiterated calls for Israel to “refrain from any acts that may prejudice or preempt the outcome of permanent status negotiations,” such as more settlement activity in the disputed areas.