U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit the Middle East, his third trip in a month, in yet another attempt to push Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume peace negotiations, AFP reported on Wednesday.
In a surprise move, the State Department announced that Kerry will return to Jerusalem and the PA early next week to build on a series of talks last month with regional leaders.
Expectations are growing that the U.S. administration is ready to resume some kind of shuttle diplomacy to rekindle the peace process, which has stalled since 2010, but, according to AFP, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland cautioned, "I would not expect the secretary to be putting down a plan."
Kerry accompanied U.S. President Barack Obama on his first official visit to the region several weeks ago and, after Obama left the region, Kerry stayed behind and met PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Amman. He then travelled to Jerusalem for talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
"They've had some time to reflect on the visit," Nuland said, according to AFP. "So this a chance for the secretary to go back and to listen again and to hear what they think is possible.
"But he'll also be making clear that the parties themselves have to want to get back to the table, that this is a choice that they have to make, and that they've also got to recognize, both parties, that compromise and sacrifices are going to have to be made if we're going to be able to help," she added.
After Kerry’s last visit, PA officials said that he had begun to push for a resumption of peace talks between Israel and the PA.
Unconfirmed reports following that visit indicated that Kerry is planning on offering Israel and the PA an outline which would see Israel releasing terrorists from its prisons and transferring areas from Area B, which is under joint PA-Israeli control under the Oslo Accords, to Area A which is under full PA control.
Kerry’s outline would have the PA undertaking a return to the negotiating table and promising not to file lawsuits against Israel with the International Criminal Court.
Abbas has continuously imposed preconditions on peace talks and has demanded that Israel freeze Jewish construction in Judea, Samaria, and eastern Jerusalem. When Israel froze construction for a ten-month period in 2010, however, he refused to come to the table.
Meanwhile, Kerry will also visit Istanbul this weekend with the two-year-old conflict in Syria which has cost more than 70,000 lives set to top the agenda of talks with senior Turkish officials.
Nuland would not go into details about his talks Sunday in Istanbul, but many of the top Syrian opposition leaders are based there and he may seek to carve out some time to meet them, reported AFP.
Kerry's latest trip to Turkey also comes after Israel apologized to Ankara in late March for the deaths of nine Turks in a botched raid by Israeli commandos on a Gaza-bound ship.