Kerry off to Israel in bid to salvage peace talks

 

Secretary of State John Kerry is headed back to Israel on Monday in a bid to salvage peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Kerry is flying to Tel Aviv from Paris, where he spent Sunday locked in negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over a possible diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine.

A senior State Department official said Kerry had “possible meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah over the next day.”

Earlier Monday, Israeli officials presented Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a proposal to extend the peace talks beyond the initial April 29 deadline established by the United States.

"Now the Palestinians need to reply if they are willing to continue negotiations,” an Israeli official told Agence France-Presse.

The talks were endangered when Israel refused to release 26 Palestinian prisoners on Saturday, as it had promised. Israeli officials said they would not move forward with the release without a firm commitment from Palestinians to continue the talks.

Israel had committed to releasing 104 Palestinians, held since the 1993 peace accords, in exchange for Palestinians ceasing efforts to seek recognition as a state from international bodies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel would not release the fourth and final group of prisoners "without a clear benefit for Israel in return,” according to the The Jerusalem Post. He also acknowledged his move could “blow up” the negotiations.

“Israel wants to see the continuation of the peace talks with the Palestinians and is willing to implement the fourth release of convicted terrorists. But the Palestinians are making that very difficult when they say that immediately following the release, they will end the talks,” and Israeli official told the paper.

Palestinian leaders have said they would not even entertain continuing the talks until Israel releases the remaining prisoners.