U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Palestinian Authority leaders Sunday, on a fresh mission to forge a new path forward after a years-long impasse in Middle East peace negotiations, AFP reported.
Flying in from Istanbul, the first stop on a 10-day overseas trip, Kerry went to Ramallah, where he held talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for the third time in a little over a month. A top State Department official called the talks "a constructive meeting," according to AFP.
The two first met for about 20 minutes with several PA and U.S. officials present, before Kerry and Abbas met for a one-to-one lasting almost an hour during which they "agreed to continue working together to determine the best path forward."
But Abbas, who has imposed endless preconditions on peace negotiations, came up with another one, saying that the release of terrorist prisoners held by Israel was a "top priority" for resuming peace talks.
"President Abbas stressed that the release of the prisoners is a priority that creates an appropriate climate for the possibility of moving the peace process forward," his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.
In a public speech last week, Abbas said that the freeing of terrorists serving time in Israeli prisons was a "priority" for his leadership.
"The Palestinian leadership gives priority to the prisoners issue and ending their suffering," Abbas said in a speech to a meeting of his Fatah party in Ramallah.
"We cannot be silent about their staying behind bars... (we) have demanded the freeing of all prisoners, especially those arrested before the Oslo accords, and sick, child and women prisoners," he said.
The “free the terrorists” precondition comes just two days after Abbas demanded that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu present a map for a future Palestinian state before any peace talks can resume.
Abbas "wants to know, through a map to be presented by Benjamin Netanyahu to (U.S. Secretary of State John) Kerry, what the prime minister's view of a two-state solution would be, especially the borders," his political adviser Nimr Hammad told AFP.
The PA chairman has continuously 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.
Earlier Sunday, Kerry said that he was very anxious for Turkey and Israel to restore ties as fully as possible. Good relations were essential for stability in the Middle East, as well as for making progress in negotiations between Israel and the PA, he said.
Kerry will Monday join a ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day before meeting PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and then Israeli President Shimon Peres.
He will meet Netanyahu on Tuesday morning before leaving for London for a meeting of G8 foreign ministers.