Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel on Thursday in his latest bid to reenergize peace negotiations and find scarce common ground between pessimistic Israeli and Palestinian officials.
His visit, the 10th to the region in under a year, aims to lay the foundations of a “framework agreement” that addresses the core issues of the decades-old conflict and open the way for an independent Palestine, according to U.S. officials.
But on the question of borders, security, refugees and the status of Jerusalem, leaders from both sides have sounded far apart this week.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin on Thursday rejected the creation of a Palestinian state based on the lines pre-dating the 1967 Six Day War, in which Israel captured and occupied Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
“The Jordan Valley must be under Israeli sovereignty forever,” he said, referring to the border area with Jordan, from which Palestinians want a full Israeli withdrawal.
“The 1967 borders are Auschwitz borders,” Ha’aretz newspaper quoted him as saying, suggesting that any such move would lead to the destruction of Israel.
On Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas renewed a call for all Israeli settlers and soldiers within the 1967 lines to be evacuated, saying he would not hesitate to reject a bad deal.
“We will say “yes” to any ideas suggested to us which meet our rights. But we will not fear and will not hesitate for a moment … to say “no,” whatever the pressure, to any proposal which detracts from or doesn’t fulfil the higher national interests of our people,” he said in a speech.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat last month said a framework agreement could allow the talks to be continued for another year. However, earlier this week, he said the U.S.-brokered talks were “failing” and threatened to haul Israel before the International Criminal Court.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, a senior U.S. State Department official said Kerry was not expecting a breakthrough during his latest visit, when he is due to see Netanyahu and Abbas separately on several occasions.
The official, who declined to be named, said an eventual framework accord would act as a guideline for reaching a full peace treaty by the end of April.