WASHINGTON U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet in London on Thursday, the U.S. State Department said, less than a month after a U.S. effort to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal collapsed.
The focus of the talks is the U.S.-Palestinian relationship, the State Department said, a possible reference to whether Washington can keep funding the Palestinian Authority if it carries out a unity agreement with the Islamist Hamas faction.
"While the door remains open to a peace process, the purpose of the meeting is to discuss our ongoing relationship with the Palestinians," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a brief statement on Monday.
"As he has throughout the process, Secretary Kerry will reiterate a call he has made to both sides to maintain restraint and refrain from steps that would be unhelpful," she added.
Offering his first public account of Kerry's failed nine-month effort to strike a peace deal by April 29, U.S. special envoy Martin Indyk last week made clear there was blame on both sides, citing Israeli settlement-building as well as the Palestinians' signing of 15 international conventions.
Israel suspended the talks on April 24 after Abbas's unexpected unity pact with Hamas, a step that appeared to be the final nail in the coffin of the U.S.-sponsored negotiations.
While Abbas announced the planned unity government as a step toward Palestinian elections, many such pacts between the Fatah faction that dominates the Palestinian Authority-run West Bank and Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip, have unraveled.
If it were carried through, it could jeopardize U.S. foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Annual U.S. aid to the Palestinians has run at about $500 million in recent years, although it fell to roughly $440 million in the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2013, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
By law, U.S. aid to the Palestinians may not benefit Hamas, which Washington regards as a terrorist group, "or any entity effectively controlled by Hamas, any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member, or that results from an agreement with Hamas and over which Hamas exercises undue influence."
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)