Last updated: 20 February, 2014

The Kerry initiative continues: new Paris talks with Abbas

US Secretary of State John Kerry held “constructive” talks in Paris with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas meeting twice in less than 24 hours as they seek to hammer out a peace deal, a US official said Thursday.

The two men met Thursday for two hours swapping Abbas’s Ramallah headquarters on the West Bank where they normally meet for an upscale Parisian hotel where the Palestinian leader also hosted Kerry for dinner on Wednesday.

The top US diplomat has spent months trying to get the Israelis and the Palestinians to agree on a framework to guide talks towards a full peace treaty, but the negotiations have shown little sign of progress, with each side blaming the other.

Abbas and Kerry met “to continue their constructive conversations on a framework for negotiations,” a senior State Department official said, adding they agreed to stay in touch in the coming weeks.

Kerry late Thursday described himself as “a man who wants to try help the Israelis and Palestinians arrive at the place I think both would like to arrive at, which is peace and stability and prosperity and a future that is not cursed by conflict and rockets and soldiers and death”.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 television recorded in Washington earlier this month and broadcast Thursday, Kerry said his “goal is to try help resolve something I feel in my guts is really, really important to the people of Israel.”

True to the veil of secrecy he has imposed on the talks, Kerry refused to divulge any concrete details including what the fate of settlers on occupied Palestinian lands would be under any deal.

But he alluded to the possibility that some settlers may be allowed to stay on land that would be handed over to Palestinian control.

Palestinian ambassador to France, Hael al-Fahum, told Voice of Palestine radio that in Paris Abbas “had outlined his vision of a peace which is based on international law”.

The Palestinian leader also insisted there could be no deal without east Jerusalem as the capital of a state of Palestine and “a resolution of all the issues, in particular security, refugees and the release of prisoners”.

Despite the tough talks and a barrage of personal attacks, Kerry told the Israeli television he was determined to stay the course, with both sides having agreed to keep talking until late April.

“People who know me know that when I sink my teeth into something, if I get the bit between my teeth, I try to get it done,” he said.

Kerry, who pushed the two sides back to the negotiating table after a three-year gap, has no immediate plans to travel back to Israel after making 11 trips during his first year in office.

– ‘A candid relationship’ –

But he will likely meet early next month in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of an annual conference organised by a powerful American-Israeli lobbying group.

Kerry said of Netanyahu that “we have had a very trusting and candid relationship”.

But he added that the Israeli leader “has enormous complications he has to deal with” such as guaranteeing the security of Israel.

Israeli President Shimon Peres told a conference of American Jewish organisations on Thursday: “We have to ask ourselves what is the main purpose of the negotiations is and we should be clear that it is to keep Israel as a Jewish state”.

But leading Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi told a visiting delegation from one American Jewish group that Israel was “wilfully sabotaging” Kerry’s efforts particularly with its continued settlement building.