WASHINGTON – Secretary of State John Kerry will present Israel and the Palestinians the broad outlines of what a final Mideast peace agreement could look like when he travels to the region this week, the State Department said on Monday.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Kerry will discuss with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a proposed framework to serve as a guideline for addressing core issues in the decades-long dispute, including the borders between Israel and a future Palestine, security arrangements, the fate of Palestinian refugees and conflicting claims to the holy city of Jerusalem.
The two sides resumed peace talks in July under heavy pressure from Kerry. As a precondition, the Palestinians were forced to drop a demand for a halt in construction of new Jewish settlements. In exchange, Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners it has detained for years.
Kerry, who is scheduled to leave on Thursday for Israel and the Palestinian territories, has invested a lot of time conducting shuttle negotiations in hopes of reaching a deal within nine months. The target date expires at the end of April, and while that is not considered a deadline to end talks, there has been little, if any, tangible sign of progress so far.
Harf said Kerry hoped to narrow gaps in the two parties’ positions, but it is not clear whether any agreement on a framework would be reached during the trip.
“It’s only a proposed framework at this point. … This framework would address all the core issues,” Harf said.
“Some people say this would be an interim agreement. No, that’s not the case. It would address the guidelines around all the core issues that are part of the final status negotiations.”
Kerry’s trip coincides with the third of four releases of 104 Palestinian prisoners from detention. Early today, Israel freed more than two dozen Palestinian prisoners convicted in deadly attacks against Israelis. All have served sentences of between 19 and 28 years.
Israeli hard-liners typically oppose the release of Palestinian prisoners and, as with past releases, the Israeli government plans to announce the construction of new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – a move expected to anger the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, at his headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas, speaking before thousands, pledged to continue pressing for the release of long-serving and ill prisoners.
“We will not sign a final peace deal with Israel before all the prisoners are released,” he said.
Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and more than 550,000 Israelis live in areas gained during the conflict. The Palestinians claim them as parts of a future independent state and criticize Israeli settlement construction as a sign of bad faith.
Abbas appealed to the U.S. to block the latest round of Jewish settlements, warning the move could jeopardize the U.S.-led peace effort.
Kerry has urged the Israelis to show restraint, and recently said the construction of new settlements raises questions about Israel’s commitment to peace. The European Union has also urged Israel not to announce any more construction, saying it would hold Israel responsible for any breakdown in the talks.