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John Kerry: 'Basis' reached for renewed Mideast talks; initial round in D.C.

On his sixth trip to Mideast in six months, John Kerry hailed 'significant ... step forward,' but said the Israeli and Palestinian agreement on the renewed peace talks were still 'being formalized.' 

By Staff writer / July 19, 2013

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a press conference at Queen Alia International Airport on Friday. Kerry says Israel and the Palestinians will meet soon in Washington to finalize an agreement on relaunching peace negotiations for the first time in five years.

Mandel Ngan/AP

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Washington

Secretary of State John Kerry was determined not to return to Washington empty-handed from his sixth trip to the Middle East in six months, and it appears that determination has paid off.

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A beaming Mr. Kerry announced in Amman Friday evening before heading home after four days in the region that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed on a “basis” for returning to peace talks on “final status” issues. The goal will be the formal ending of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Calling the development “a significant and welcome step forward,” Kerry nevertheless hinted at the half-step nature of his accomplishment with the few details he was willing to divulge: “The agreement is still in the process of being formalized,” he said, adding that if “everything goes as expected,” senior Israeli and Palestinian officials will travel to Washington for “initial talks within the next week or so.”

Kerry said that all sides had agreed that “we are absolutely not going to talk about any of the elements now,” but that an additional announcement would be made after the initial Washington talks.

For those talks, Kerry will be joined by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of the peace process with Palestinians, and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. An aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Isaac Molho, is also expected to take part.

Simply the ability to get the Israelis and Palestinians to agree to resume talks that have been stalled since 2010 – and which really haven’t been pursued seriously since 2008 – is itself a Herculean feat, some regional analysts say. But they caution that these talks, like others before them, will go nowhere if they remain for long what they are so far: the result of a particularly determined secretary of state.

“It is significant that, against long and formidable odds, and in a region that is so unsettled … John Kerry has managed to get Israelis and Palestinians to resume talks on … final status issues,” says Aaron David Miller, a former US diplomat with extensive experience in the peace process who is now vice president for new initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

“But what is clear is that Kerry has an enormous amount invested in this, he owns it,” Mr. Miller adds. “Ultimately it will go nowhere unless he can create a sense of ownership in the Israelis, in the Palestinians – and in his own president.”

Kerry’s blackout on the details of the agreement left uncertain how the chief US diplomat was able to bridge the differences between the two sides on two key issues: whether or not talks will proceed on the basis of borders that existed between the two sides before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war (when Israel captured key territory including East Jerusalem), and Israeli settlement activity on Palestinian lands.

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