Kerry to meet Arab League officials on Israeli-Palestinian peace
AMMAN (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to meet on Wednesday with officials from Arab nations that he regards as essential to his push to get Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace talks.
On his sixth visit to the region since taking office, Kerry and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke for five hours in Amman on Tuesday night over an Iftar dinner, the evening meal with which Muslims break their daily fast during Ramadan.
The two discussed Israeli-Palestinian peace, bolstering the Palestinian economy and the recent upheaval in the Middle East, a senior State Department official said without giving details, in keeping with Kerry's desire to keep his consultations secret.
Kerry hopes to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down in 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want for an independent state.
After a round of shuttle diplomacy between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the end of June, Kerry said that "with a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach".
However, Israeli officials said they were unaware of any plans by Kerry to visit Israel on his latest trip, and diplomats and Middle East analysts are skeptical that the Israelis and Palestinians will resume peace talks soon.
Moreover, some regard the issue as less pressing than Syria's civil war, the Egyptian army's overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi and Iran's nuclear program.
On Wednesday, Kerry is due to meet officials from countries that supported a 2002 Arab League proposal that offered full Arab recognition of Israel if it gave up land seized in a 1967 war and accepted a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.
Abbas has said that, for new talks to be held, Netanyahu must freeze the settlements and recognize the West Bank's boundary before its capture by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for the future Palestine's border.
Israel, seeking to keep major settlement blocs under any peace accord and citing security concerns, balks at those terms.
Kerry has sought to ensure that any new peace process would have the backing of the Arab League states, which, if they were to offer Israel a comprehensive peace, could provide a strong incentive for Israeli compromises.
U.S. officials declined to confirm which countries would be represented at Wednesday's meeting but said they were likely to include Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
When Kerry met the group on April 29, they made a concession to Israel by saying Israel and the Palestinians could swap land rather than conform exactly to their 1967 borders.
Previously, the group had insisted on a return to the 1967 lines and had not endorsed land swaps, although it has long been assumed that these would be part of any peace agreement.
Yet the Arab League plan, rejected by Israel when it was proposed at a Beirut summit in 2002, has major obstacles to overcome.
Israel objects not only to a return to 1967 borders but also to the inclusion of Arab East Jerusalem in a Palestinian state and the right of return of Palestinian refugees to what is now Israel.