Middle East

Kerry to meet Palestinian president in peace talks bid

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah on 18 July 2013
Image caption Mahmoud Abbas has already met John Kerry twice this week to discuss the US plan

US Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah to try to revive peace talks with Israel.

The state department announced the plan after Mr Kerry met the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, in Amman.

Palestinian officials who met earlier did not endorse a new US plan.

They wanted more guarantees that talks about borders would be based on pre-1967 ceasefire lines.

"The problem is that up to now there aren't clear written commitments about the terms of reference for negotiations," Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative told the BBC.

"What we are asking for is written clear invitations that refer to a two-state solution based on 1967 borders and that is the Palestinian position."

Dr Barghouti said that Palestinians also had reservations about giving up their demand for Israel to freeze its settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"If they continue settlement activities while negotiations take place this will completely undermine the situation," he said.

Back and forth

Mr Kerry has conducted a week of intense shuttle diplomacy: He has already met Mr Abbas twice in Amman and won support from the Arab League for his latest peace proposals.

It said they provided "the ground and a suitable environment to start negotiations".

This raised speculation that President Abbas's Fatah faction and senior members of the broader Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) would concur at meetings in Ramallah on Thursday.

Mr Kerry decided to extend his visit to the region by a night amid the signs of progress, but he has now delayed his return to the US even more.

"Secretary Kerry will travel to Ramallah this afternoon to meet with President Abbas," said a state department official.

Earlier the White House said President Barack Obama had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by telephone, urging him to resume negotiations with the Palestinians "as soon as possible".

Details unclear

Mr Kerry has not publicly announced details of his plan to revive direct peace talks, which stalled nearly three years ago.

Previously the Palestinians had demanded a freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem before a return to peace talks. They have also asked for negotiations about borders to be based on pre-1967 ceasefire lines.

Israel's coalition government, which includes pro-settler parties, has said there should be no preconditions.

The Israeli prime minister's office declined to comment on reports that Mr Kerry had presented a plan that included the resumption of talks on pre-1967 lines with land swaps that took into account the major settlement blocs in the West Bank.

However on his Facebook page, Naftali Bennett, who leads the third biggest party in the Israeli governing coalition, rejected any such terms.

"The Jewish Home party under my leadership will not be a partner, not even for one second, in a government that agrees to negotiation based on 1967 lines," he said.

"Jerusalem, our capital, is not and will never be subject to negotiations."

The rights of Palestinian refugees, borders, settlements and the status of Jerusalem are all core issues in any final status peace agreement.

In recent months, John Kerry has paid six visits to the Middle East in an effort to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

He has said that time is running out for a two-state solution to their decades-old conflict.