After months of intense talks with the Israeli and Palestinian governments, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry begins 2014 with a trip to the Middle East on Wednesday.
The top diplomat hopes to make this the year that Israel and the Palestinians seal a long-elusive peace deal and this will be his tenth tour to Israel and the West Bank since peace talks began last year.
The U.S. is trying to establish an agreed framework that will establish a vision of what a final peace deal would look like.
It would provide “a basis upon which one could negotiate the final peace treaty because the outlines or the guidelines for what the final deal would look like would be agreed upon, and then you would work intensively to fill out the details,” a senior State Department official was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.
Speaking in Ramallah late Tuesday, Abbas said: “We will not remain patient as the settlement cancer spreads, especially in (east) Jerusalem.”
“The settlement activity that has been going on has created a lot of questions on the Palestinian side and in the international community about the intentions of the government of Israel,” the State Department official conceded, asking to remain anonymous.
“It’s both the building and the planning that creates a great deal of heartburn,” the official added, reiterating the U.S. position that settlements are illegitimate.
Kerry and his team, led by special envoy and former ambassador Martin Indyk, hope to have the framework in place soon, addressing all core issues including the contours of the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Jerusalem claimed by both sides as a capital, and Palestinian refugees.
Having outlined “the areas of agreement between the parties and overlap, and the areas of disagreement,” Kerry was now seeking to test ideas to bridge the gaps.
On Tuesday, Israel released a third group of Palestinian prisoners, in accordance with the peace talks. Despite this however, there have been little signs of progress amid growing pessimism Kerry’s push will just join the long litany of failed U.S. peace efforts.
U.S. officials cautioned they were not expecting any breakthroughs on this trip, which comes just as Abbas threatened to take legal and diplomatic action to halt Israeli settlement building.
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