Last updated: 24 March, 2013

Kerry talks mark start of US peace drive

US Secretary of State John Kerry has begun to push for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after meetings with the two sides, Palestinian officials said on Sunday.

“Kerry began the US administration’s real intervention,” a high-ranking official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

“The US push for finding a solution has begun,” he added.

Although Kerry accompanied US President Barack Obama on his first official visit to the Holy Land last week, he kept a low profile.

But after Obama left the region on Saturday, Kerry stayed behind and met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Amman then travelled to Jerusalem for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The US administration “will, in the next two months, present a plan of action to the two sides for the next political steps,” said the Palestinian official.

It was “too early to talk about bilateral or even trilateral meetings,” the official added.

“We consider Obama and Kerry’s visit to have normalised US-Palestinian relations” in the wake of a successful Palestinian bid for upgraded UN recognition that angered Israel and Washington, who said it undermined efforts for bilateral talks.

On a visit to Baghdad Sunday, Kerry said nothing about an action plan but characterised the US president’s visit as “extremely successful”.

Obama “felt they (the talks) were the best that he has had to date, and I think the stage has been set for the possibilities that parties can hopefully find a way to negotiations,” Kerry said

“We’ve just begun those discussions. I wouldn’t characterise them in any way except open, candid, and a good beginning…,” he added.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP Abbas was willing to “resume the peace process based on recognition of the 1967 borders” — the lines which existed before the Six-Day War of 1967.

“It is not possible to resume talks that are not based on these,” he said.

During his meeting with Obama, Abbas made it clear he required more than just a partial freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank, Erakat said.

Abbas had argued that freezing settlements outside the (major settlement) blocs was not enough, stressing that the latter “posed a danger to the two-state solution, especially the taking over of (annexed) east Jerusalem.”

If Israel halted all settlement building and recognised the 1967 borders, “it could lead to an immediate resumption of talks,” Erakat added.

Abbas also asked Obama to push for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, he said.