As his first diplomatic move in the New Year, US Secretary Of State John Kerry will travel to the Middle East next week to help resume the so-called peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians , a senior State Department official said Saturday.
This will be Kerry’s ninth trip to the occupied Palestinian territories to mediate the negotiations. The US top diplomat had given Palestinians and Israelis a nine-month deadline to reach a peace deal.  The two sides are now four months into the deadline with little progress.
The Palestinians criticize the Israeli settlements as one of the main obstacles to achieving a deal.
Israel continues to construct settlement buildings in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – the territories Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war. Most countries consider Israel's settlements there illegal.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has also called for the release of Palestinian prisoners . More than 4,500 Palestinian inmates are held in Israeli jails, many of them without charges.
Kerry urges Israelis and Palestinians to agree to a framework for an interim accord ahead of a deal in April, which would launch another year of talks aimed at a comprehensive deal.
Also Chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Dec. 18 that the talks may need to be extended for another year if Palestinian and Israeli negotiators agree on key issues by the time the current round of talks wraps up in April.
"We are not talking about a peace treaty on the 29th of April, we are talking about a framework agreement," he said, adding “to reach a comprehensive treaty, on all core issues... you need six to 12 months in the best case."