- Records: Man in Fla. theater shooting also was texting
- The Putin problem: U.S. needs Russian rockets for spy satellites
- Florida cops ticket toddler in toy convertible: report
- Kerry warns of ‘very serious’ response to Crimea-Russia alliance
- Fla. Rep. Alan Grayson’s wife drops restraining order against him
- McDonald’s lawsuits filed over wages ‘stolen’ like Hamburglar steals Big Macs
- HUMPHRIES: Fight like a Democrat – An open letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell
- Florida board member shocks with ‘Heil Hitler’ salute at town meeting
- Bill O’Reilly, Chris Matthews inducted into Irish America Hall of Fame
- Military given ‘execute order’ by Obama for secret cyber mission in June
John Kerry: Progress made in peace talks between Israelis, Palestinians
TEL AVIV (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Sunday wrapped up four days of shuttle diplomacy on a positive note, saying that he had narrowed the gaps considerably between Israel and the Palestinians and that the resumption of negotiations could be “within reach.”
Mr. Kerry delivered the assessment after a final, frantic day of diplomacy that included a late-night meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a last-minute meeting in the West Bank with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
He would not elaborate but said he would leave a team of aides in the region to continue the mediation efforts. He also said that at the request of both sides, he would return in the near future.
“We started out with very wide gaps, and we have narrowed those considerably,” Mr. Kerry said. “We have some specific details and work to pursue, but I am absolutely confident that we are on the right track and all of the parties are working in very good faith in order to get to the right place.”
Since taking office early this year, Mr. Kerry has been shuttling between Israelis and the Palestinians in search of a formula to restart negotiations aimed at forging a final peace agreement. The talks seek to establish an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Mr. Kerry‘s visit was his fifth to the region as secretary of state, and the lack of any apparent progress has begun to generate skepticism on all sides.
But Mr. Kerry said he was convinced that both sides are serious about restarting peace efforts. He extended his stay, canceling a visit to Abu Dhabi, in order to continue his peace efforts in Jerusalem, the West Bank and neighboring Jordan.
“I am pleased to tell you that we have made real progress on this trip, and I believe with a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach,” he said. “I believe their request to me to return to the area soon is a sign that they share cautious optimism.”
The last substantial round of peace talks broke down in late 2008, and with the exception of a brief attempt at restarting negotiations in 2010, efforts have remained at a standstill.
The Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
The Palestinians have said they will not resume talks unless Israel stops building Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem or accepts its pre-1967 frontiers as the basis for a future border. The Palestinians are also pressing Israel to release more than 100 of the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners it is holding.
Mr. Kerry is believed to be pursuing a package of incentives to both sides that would include economic aid to the Palestinians, some sort of slowdown in Israeli settlement construction, a prisoner release, security guarantees to Israel and assurances to the Palestinians that talks on borders will take place quickly.
Mr. Kerry declined to discuss what ideas were being discussed, saying that secrecy was needed for negotiations to take place in good faith. He also declined to set any deadlines or time limits.
“This has been years and years. If it takes another week or two weeks or some more time, that is minimal, minuscule compared to the stakes and what we are trying to do,” he said.
Mr. Netanyahu has insisted that talks begin immediately without any preconditions, but he rejects a return to the 1967 lines and has allowed thousands of new settler homes to be built on his watch, raising Palestinian suspicions that he is not serious about peace.
Addressing his Cabinet on Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu showed little signs of bending.
“We are not putting up any impediments on the resumption of the permanent talks and a peace agreement between us and the Palestinians,” he said.
At the same time, he said, “We will not compromise on security, and there will be no agreement that will endanger Israelis’ security.”
He added that any agreement would be presented to the public in a referendum.
Critics have said such a step would merely add an additional obstacle to implementing any deal, which would require a broad pullout from the West Bank.
Following Sunday morning’s meeting in Ramallah, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, reported progress but said that gaps remained.
“I cannot say we have a breakthrough,” he said. “All I can say once again is no one benefits more from the success of Secretary Kerry than the Palestinians, and no one stands to lose more from its failure than Palestinians.”
• Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh and Josef Federman contributed to this article.
TWT Video Picks
By Emily Miller
Obama is losing the debate on gun ownership, concealed-carry permits
- USS Kidd sent to Indian Ocean after 'indication' of Malaysian jet crash
- Oil rig worker says he saw missing plane go down: report
- F-35 secrets now showing up in Chinas stealth fighter
- U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with 'Top Gun'-worthy stunt: 'You really ought to go home'
- GOP bill tries to pull courts into fight with Obama on executive power, enforcing laws
- MILLER: Law enforcement realizes good people with guns deter crime
- Ben Carson: America's now 'very much like Nazi Germany'
- College group's diversity event canceled after excluding white people
- Critics point to Obama's attempts to sell health care as no laughing matter
- Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee claims Constitution is 400 years old
Chaos as Manhattan building explodes
Pope Francis meets his 'mini-me'
Celebrity deaths in 2014
Winter storm hits states — again