"Our goal remains as it always has been -- for the Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final status agreement, not an interim agreement," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday at the end of his latest trip to the Middle East, which included meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
"The core principles, the core framework, if you want to call it that, which we are discussing with respect to this, centers on the critical issues -- borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual recognition, and an end to conflict and to all claims," Kerry said. "The United States is committed to remaining the principal facilitator in this process."
Kerry's public clarification of his country's goal for the peace talks came a week after U.S. President Barack Obama told the Saban Forum in Washington that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would be implemented in stages, a statement that some interpreted as meaning that the U.S. was now seeking an interim deal, rather than a final status one. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's top diplomatic negotiator, also recently said that the implementation of a peace agreement with the Palestinians would be "gradual."
Kerry landed in Israel on Thursday and was able to hold meetings with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Abbas in Ramallah despite the major snow storm that hit the region.
"I am, as many people know, on my way to Asia, and I thought it would be valuable on the way to stop off here to continue the conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas," Kerry said on Friday. "I appreciate the fact that both of them continue to be very serious, providing both their personnel and their own personal time to the effort to be able to carry on these discussions. And we had some in-depth focus on the issue particularly of security, and also some of the other critical issues with respect to the Palestinian Authority."
"I know that the nature of these talks breeds speculation inevitably, and that's because we really don't want to talk about the details of any proposals or what we're discussing," Kerry said. "And the reasons for that are obvious. It lends to distortion, they may never be the real things that you wind up focusing on, and the proposal is merely that -- a proposal."
Kerry's meeting with Abbas on Thursday was cut short by 15 minutes due to the concern of Kerry's security team that the ongoing snowfall would prevent Kerry from leaving Ramallah. According to media reports, Kerry is pushing for a summit meeting with Abbas and Netanyahu at which the leaders would discuss issues that their negotiating teams have been unable to resolve as of yet. Abbas reportedly has a favorable view of holding such a summit meeting.
A senior Palestinian official told Israel Hayom that Abbas informed Kerry that the Palestinians would not accept an agreement under which Israel would maintain any military presence on lands that become part of a Palestinian state. The official also said that the Palestinians expect Israel and the U.S. to remain committed to the timing of the next prisoner release, which is scheduled for December 29. If the release is delayed, the Palestinian Authority would renew efforts to seek membership in international institutions, Abbas was said to have told Kerry.
At a leftist conference held in Tel Aviv on Friday, Opposition Leader MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) said, "I can say with certainty that we have a partner and a rare opportunity for peace."
"It's not just up to us," Herzog said. "Abbas also has to go a good part of the way."
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said, "There is a partner on the Palestinian side. The question is whether Netanyahu is a partner to reach an agreement with the Palestinians."