Middle East

Kerry seeks 'framework' for Israeli-Palestinian peace

A girl runs past graffiti on a house in the West Bank village of Dahiyat al-Zira that reads: "Regards to John Kerry - to be continued" (31 December 2013)
Image caption Vandals sprayed Hebrew graffiti in the West Bank saying: "Regards to Kerry"

US Secretary of State John Kerry is flying to the Middle East as he seeks to secure a "framework" for a final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

He hoped to achieve consensus on core issues so progress could be made towards signing a comprehensive treaty by April, a senior US official said.

The issues include security, borders, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

There has been little sign of progress from the direct talks, which resumed in July after a three-year hiatus.

'Sense of urgency'

The senior US state department official said Mr Kerry did not expect a "breakthrough" during this week's visit, but that he was pushing both sides to agree a framework document as soon as possible.

He said the framework could serve as the "basis" for a final peace treaty, Reuters reported.

"We want to have a detailed consultation with them about these ideas that have been generated as a result of the negotiations between the parties themselves, and see whether they can serve as gap bridges which could lead to this agreement on the framework for permanent status negotiations," the official told Reuters.

Mr Kerry, the US official added, had a "real sense of urgency, a real sense of need to strike while the iron is hot".

The framework was expected to be short, perhaps fewer than a dozen pages and without detailed annexes, according to the New York Times.

It would not be signed by Israeli and Palestinian leaders and would most likely take note of reservations the two sides have about some elements.

The document reportedly might be made public to prepare Israelis and Palestinians for what a potential peace treaty might look like, although no decision has been made.

US President Barack Obama has said a framework will allow people to get to a point "where everybody recognises, better to move forward than move backwards".

Image caption President Mahmoud Abbas greeted the Palestinian prisoners freed on Tuesday

However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a speech on Tuesday that he would "not hesitate for a moment to say no, regardless of the pressure, to any proposal that contradicts or sidesteps the national interests of our people".

He also insisted that Israel accept the ceasefire lines which existed before the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for the borders of a future Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a fair solution for Palestinian refugees.

The Palestinian cabinet also moved its weekly meeting to the Jordan Valley after a pro-settler caucus in Israel's parliament said it would dedicate a new area in a Jewish settlement there and the Israeli cabinet's legislative committee endorsed a bill to annex the valley.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also criticised Mr Abbas for feting 26 long-term Palestinian prisoners convicted of murder or attempted murder who were released on Tuesday as part of a deal that saw the peace process resume.

"Murderers are not heroes," he said. "This is not how you educate for peace. This is not how peace is made."

"There will be peace only when our security interests and settlement interests are ensured. There will be peace only when Israel will be able to defend itself on its own in the face of any threat."