JERUSALEM — US Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday that an agreement has been reached between Israelis and Palestinians that will form the basis of fresh negotiations to resolve the decades-old conflict.
Speaking from Amman, Jordan, Kerry said the process still needs to be formalized. He also said Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will meet in Washington D.C. as soon as next week to restart talks. But the top US diplomat revealed no further details.
The announcement came after a nerve-wracking 24 hours of shuttle diplomacy in the region.
After meeting with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in Amman Friday morning, Kerry took an unplanned flight to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Despite night-long consultations, the Palestinian government had not yet decided whether it will accept Kerry's proposal to resume talks.
"Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy is a high-wire act of the first order," Hussein Ibish, a noted commentator and a Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, wrote in an article in Foreign Policy.
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For most of Thursday, it seemed Kerry would announce new negotiations as early as Friday morning. Kerry is on his sixth visit to the region since taking office in February.
But as evening came, the Palestinian Authority’s governing body deferred its decision to Friday, while demanding that Israel first accept the 1967 cease-fire lines as the basis for any negotiations.
The 1967 boundaries refer to territory Israel captured in the Six-Day war, in which Israel faced off against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The territory includes the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights.
The Israeli government has long rejected any preconditions for reinitiating of talks.
Still, most reports on Kerry's proposal suggested he would unveil a new peace process based on the Palestinian demand that negotiations start with the 1967 borders, and the Israeli demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
On Wednesday, Israel media outlets reported that Western sources familiar with the discussions said the Palestinians added what appear to be final status demands before giving their acquiescence to the renewed talks.
Among the conditions the Palestinians are requesting is Israeli permission to build an airport suitable for helicopters and light planes in Ramallah.
As the two sides tussle over the conditions, they also face resistance from their constituencies at home.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev denied Thursday that Netanyahu had agreed to start negotiations based on the 1967 boundaries, a hot button issue in Israel that could threaten his fragile coalition government that includes right-wing nationalists opposed to talks.
Late Thursday, Naftali Bennett, Israel's minister of economy and leader of the extreme right-wing Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, part of Netanyahu's coalition, announced he would not remain "even for one second" in a government that agreed to negotiations starting at the 1967 lines.
With Israel’s parliament split evenly between left and right, Netanyahu could easily lose his majority, and therefore the government.
On the other side, both Palestinian and Israeli sources are reporting Israel will roll out a series of peace gestures, like lifting restrictions on movement in the West Bank. Some speculated this is aimed at boosting Abbas’s position vis-a-vis skeptics in his own camp.
But other reports say these “gestures” — like the Israeli travel permits issued to Palestinians and possible release of prisoners — are part of the usual easing of restrictions that takes place during the holy month of Ramadan.
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