U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, listens to Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat make a statement to the press after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014. Kerry said Israelis and Palestinians are committed to settling their differences and are working with “great intensity and serious purpose” to achieve that long-sought goal. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday cited progress on the Mideast peace process, yet acknowledged that some of the most intractable disputes between Israelis and Palestinians were unsolved after more than 20 rounds of negotiations.
“This is hard work,” he told reporters after a 2½-hour meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, their second in two days.
Afterward, Kerry resumed his shuttle diplomacy by heading back to Jerusalem for his third meeting in as many days with Israeli Prime [auth] Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two had a nearly five-hour discussion that didn’t end until 11:30 p.m.
“We’re not there yet, but we are making progress,” Kerry said earlier outside Abbas’ West Bank headquarters. “We are beginning to flesh out the toughest hurdles yet to be overcome.”
Kerry is trying to nudge Abbas and Netanyahu closer to a peace pact that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The talks have entered an intense phase aimed at getting the two sides to agree on a framework and provide guidance toward a final settlement. Reaching a deal on that framework is not expected on this trip, Kerry’s 10th to the region for peace talks.
He cited difficult complications and enduring mistrust that have built up over the years.
All of that, Kerry said, has to be “worked through and undone and a pathway has to be laid down in which the parties can have confidence that they know what is happening and that the road ahead is real, not illusory.”
He said he was confident that his most recent talks with both sides had “fleshed out — even resolved — certain kinds of issues and presented new opportunities for others.”
“It’s a tough process, step by step, day by day,” Kerry said.
Despite criticism, protests and difficult questions from their constituencies, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders are committed to the idea of their people living peacefully, side by side, and are convinced that progress so far is sufficient to keep negotiating.
“I think over the next week, we have some very serious homework — all of us — to do,” Kerry said.
The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said after the Kerry-Abbas discussions that “failure, to us, is not an option.”
He urged Israel to refrain from taking any steps that would pre-empt or prevent negotiations on a final agreement, such as new Israeli settlements or the demolition of Palestinian homes. He said Kerry had not presented any proposed documents to the Palestinian side, only ideas, and that the U.S. seeks a permanent, not interim solution to the conflict.
Ahead of Kerry’s arrival in the region this week, Israel had said it would announce plans to build 1,400 new Jewish settlement homes. But Israel backed off making the announcement, at least while Kerry was around.
On Sunday, Kerry planned to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Amman. From there, Kerry was set to visit Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah.
Kerry was expected to return to Jerusalem Sunday night and be back in Washington early this coming week.
Next weekend, Kerry said he would meet with members of the Arab League to discuss the status of the talks.
Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh contributed to this report.