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      PA: Kerry Did Not Achieve any Breakthrough

      PLO official Saeb Erekat says there's been no breakthrough in marathon U.S.-led efforts to revive direct peace talks.
      By Elad Benari
      First Publish: 7/1/2013, 6:46 AM

      Netanyahu and Kerry meet in Jerusalem
      Netanyahu and Kerry meet in Jerusalem
      Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash 90

      PLO official Saeb Erekat said on Sunday that there had been no breakthrough in marathon U.S.-led efforts to revive direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, AFP reported.

      "There has been no breakthrough so far and there is still a gap between the Palestinian and Israeli positions," chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erakat told reporters after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry finished talks in Ramallah with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, his third meeting in as many days.

      Kerry, however, insisted he had held "very positive" discussions with both sides since starting his intense shuttle diplomacy in Jerusalem on Thursday evening.

      He said that with "a little more work" the start of final status talks "could be within reach".

      "I am pleased to tell you that we have made real progress on this trip and I believe that with a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach," Kerry told reporters at Ben Gurion Airport just before leaving for Brunei.

      "We started out with very wide gaps and we have narrowed those considerably," he said, describing them as "very narrow".

      "We have some specific details and work to pursue but I am absolutely confident that we are on the right track and that all the parties are working in very good faith in order to get to the right place," said Kerry, according to AFP.

      Asked if Israel's building in Judea and Samaria had hampered efforts to achieve a breakthrough, he said: "The answer is no, there are any number of obstacles, but we are working through them.

      "We have to have the courage to stay at this and to make some tough decisions," he said.

      Kerry, who has over the last four days spent a total 13 hours in talks with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and another six with Abbas, said he would return to the region without saying when.

      "I'm going to come back because both leaders have asked me to," he said, according to AFP.

      Over the weekend there were media reports that a four-way summit in Jordan was about to be announced, involving Netanyahu, Abbas, King Abdullah II and Kerry, but those reports fizzled on Sunday as it became clear that Kerry had not been able to get the sides to agree to this.

      Israeli officials were quoted by Channel 10 News as having said that there is an outline for the resumption of talks.

      In addition, the officials said that the PA was asking to set a date for the end of talks so that time does not appear to be wasted. The main obstacle for the resumption of talks is the issue of the release of terrorist prisoners, according to Channel 10.

      Abbas has demanded that Israel release terrorists jailed before the 1993 Oslo Accords, but the Israeli officials said there is no consensus at this point about who to release and how.

      Abbas has been unwilling to budge in demanding that Israel freeze all Jewish construction in Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem restored to the capital in the 1967 Six Day War, and recognize the 1949 Armistice Line as a designated border for any future PA state, as a precondition for re-entering final status talks.

      Such an agreement would constitute a de facto agreement and largely negate the necessity for negotiations, in addition to recreating an existential threat to the State of Israel and abandoning Judaism's holiest sanctuaries.

      PA officials, as usual, blamed Israel on Sunday for the stalemate in the peace process.

      "Netanyahu and his government are not serious about establishing a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, they speak of a state without clear borders, and we need clarity according to international resolutions," said Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior official of Abbas's ruling Fatah party, according to AFP.

      "We are ready to resume negotiations according to our clear guidelines," he was quoted as having told Voice of Palestine radio.

      "Even with regards to the prisoners' issue, Israel did not provide any clear answer. We want a serious process to be launched," he said.