AMMAN: United States (US) Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday that his intense diplomacy in six visits to the Middle East was bearing fruit, narrowing gaps between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kerry met in neighboring Jordan with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Tuesday and again on Wednesday as he also outlined his ideas to kickstart direct negotiations to other top Arab officials and ministers.
The US envoy, who has made the resumption of Middle East peace talks after a three-year break a priority since he took office on February 1, said the goal was getting nearer.
“Through hard and deliberate, patient work, and most importantly through quiet work, we have been able to narrow those gaps very significantly,” Kerry told reporters.
“We continue to get closer and I continue to be hopeful that the two sides will come to sit at the same table,” he added, standing alongside his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh.
Kerry acknowledged that differences remained between the two sides, despite his dogged shuttle diplomacy, which saw him hold hours of talks with both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his visit last month.
“There are still some elements and some language that needs to be agreed upon and worked out. This is normal, and I’m not going to detail specifics,” he said.
The Palestinians insist that they will not return to the negotiating table until Israel agrees to accept as a baseline the lines that existed before the 1967 Middle East war, when it occupied the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
They say Israel needs to freeze all settlement construction in the occupied lands, including in east Jerusalem, which it annexed in a move never recognized by the international community.
Israel rejects such “preconditions.”
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi and Gulf Arab envoys, who were also in the Jordanian capital, however, gave strong backing to Kerry’s peace push.
“The Arab delegates believe Kerry’s ideas . . . constitute a good ground and suitable environment for restarting the negotiations,” a statement said.
His proposals “lay the proper foundation to start the negotiations especially on the political, economic and security areas,” the statement added.