U.S. works on outline for Israel-Palestinian peace deal ahead of April deadline
WASHINGTON — The United States will begin this week to present potential solutions to disagreements between Israel and the Palestinians as an April deadline for a peace deal approaches, a senior State Department official close to negotiations said on Tuesday.
Secretary of State John Kerry will test American proposals during meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, set to begin Thursday when he returns to the region. The goal is an outline to guide the most intensive and difficult phase of the direct negotiations Kerry prodded the two sides to begin last summer.
Kerry set a nine-month deadline that would produce a final peace deal by late April that would establish an independent Palestinian state by late April. The framework agreement at issue would commit the two sides to the parameters of a final deal.
Details would be filled in over the next few months, but the outline would be a milestone that shows the largely secretive discussions are worthwhile.
A senior U.S. official said Kerry does not expect “breakthroughs” this week, but he wants the two sides to agree to the framework terms fairly soon. Those terms would govern talks on the thorniest issues, such as the borders of a Palestinian state on land Israel occupies, and they would make it hard for either side to backtrack.
All sides have acknowledged that the ambitious timeline to resolve the decades-old conflict could slip, but Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have kept their word to remain at the table for talks that have now gone about 20 rounds.
Israel held to a key condition for talks early Tuesday, with the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners serving long sentences for killing Israelis. It was the third of four scheduled releases for a total of 104 Palestinian prisoners, all serving 19 years or more in Israeli jails for crimes committed before the 1993 signing of the Oslo accords.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in turn, has held off on plans to seek further recognition of the Palestinian government through the United Nations, a path that could confer de facto statehood without input from Israel. The United States opposes that route.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas have not met directly since talks resumed in July. A face-to-face meeting, possibly with Kerry as moderator, would be a significant sign of progress. The senior U.S. official said such a meeting would likely follow agreement on the framework terms.
The official acknowledged the risks of raising the profile of talks to that level, given that the last direct talks between Abbas and Netanyahu ended with each accusing the other of intransigence and obstructionism. All direct talks halted with that brief 2010 exchange.