TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday wrapped up four days of shuttle diplomacy on a positive note, saying he had considerably narrowed the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians and that the resumption of negotiations could be “within reach.”
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.
“I know progress when I see it, and we are making progress,” Kerry said.
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 to the area in the near future.
The talks are aimed at establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a final peace deal.
Kerry has been shuttling between the sides since taking office early this year in search of a formula for restarting negotiations, which broke down in 2008. This was his fifth trip to the region.
In the past, Abbas has said he won’t negotiate unless Israel stops building settlements on war-won lands or accepts its 1967 lines — before the capture of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in a Mideast war that year — as a starting point for border talks. The Palestinians claim all three areas for their future state.
The Palestinians are also pushing Israel to release some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners it is holding as a goodwill gesture.
Netanyahu has insisted that talks begin immediately without any preconditions.
Kerry said his meeting with Netanyahu stretched until nearly 4 a.m. Addressing his Cabinet Sunday, Netanyahu showed few signs of changing his positions.
“We will not compromise on security and there will be no agreement that will endanger Israelis’ security,” he said, adding that any final peace deal would go to a national referendum. Critics have said such a step would add an additional obstacle to passing a peace agreement.
Following Sunday morning’s meeting in Ramallah, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, reported progress but 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 more than the Palestinians, and no one stands to lose more from its failure than Palestinians.”
Associated Press writers Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh contributed to this report.