PARIS (AFP) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Wednesday with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas as he seeks progress in his quest for a Middle East peace deal.
The top U.S. diplomat has spent months trying to get the Israelis and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for resolving their decades-old conflict, but the negotiations have shown little sign of progress, with each side blaming the other.
“We are at an important point in the negotiations where we are engaged with narrowing the gaps between the parties on a framework for negotiations,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
“It was an appropriate time to spend a few hours meeting with president Abbas to talk about the core issues.”
Kerry, who coaxed the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table in July after a three-year hiatus, is trying to agree a framework to guide the talks as a late April deadline looms.
U.S. officials insist they are making progress on drawing up the framework, which is due to set out parameters and goals of the negotiations.
Israeli army radio Wednesday reported that Washington was to demand that Israel implement a partial settlement freeze after Kerry presents his framework.
Quoting U.S. negotiators involved in the talks, the radio said the United States was hoping to obtain a freeze on construction in isolated settlements outside the major West Bank blocs, which Israel hopes to retain in any peace deal.
Abbas meanwhile insisted on Tuesday that all issues in the negotiations, notably the refugee question, must be solved in line with international law.
Palestinians insist that the question of those who fled or were forced out of their homes when Israel was created in 1948 be resolved on the basis of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194, which defines principles for their “right of return”.
Speaking to 250 Israeli students in Ramallah on Sunday, Abbas said he did not want “to flood Israel” with returning refugees, and Palestinian negotiators have said the right of return would “not create an existential crisis for Israel.”
But Israel fears such an acknowledgement would open the floodgates to millions of refugees, which would pose a demographic threat to the “Jewish and democratic character” of the state.
Meeting earlier Wednesday in Paris with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, Kerry acknowledged Amman‘s special role in the region, saying “we are listening very carefully to our friends in Jordan regarding the Middle East peace process”.
Judeh replied that “Jordan is a stakeholder, not just a mediator or observer”.
“All final status issues touch the very heart of Jordanian interests and national security. And therefore we are as interested as anyone out there in having this resolved in a fruitful outcome,” he added.
Despite having made 11 trips to the region in the past year, Kerry has no immediate plans to return to Israel, and will likely next meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of an annual conference in early next month by a powerful American-Israeli lobbying group.