Kerry: The Peace Talks Are Intensifying
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared on Monday that talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were intensifying and that all issues were on the table.
According to a report in the AFP news agency, Kerry also announced that Qatar had agreed to provide $150 million in debt relief to the Palestinian Authority.
Speaking after talks with Arab League officials in Paris, Kerry said Israeli and PA negotiators had so far held 13 meetings, including three meetings in the last four days alone.
"The pace has intensified, all the core issues are on the table and they have been meeting with increased intensity," Kerry told journalists at a joint press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah.
Since becoming secretary of state in February, Kerry has dedicated much of his energy to restarting the peace talks which were frozen in September 2010.
Under intense U.S. pressure, the two sides resumed direct talks for the first time in nearly three years in Washington at the end of July.
"It is no secret to anybody that this is and remains a difficult process, there is no shortage of passionate skeptics," Kerry said, according to AFP.
"The Israeli and Palestinian people both have leaders who absolutely understand what is at stake and they have taken risks to bring both parties to the table," he claimed.
Kerry praised the Arab League's "remarkable commitment" to pushing the peace process, saying it is "critical to creating the momentum and the seriousness of purpose that is essential in order to be successful in these talks."
He praised the Qatari move to provide "urgently needed" debt relief to the PA, adding he was "confident" that other Arab countries would follow suit.
Attiyah, meanwhile, said the Arab League was "concerned about the environment" surrounding the peace talks, singling out the expansion of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and what he termed “the continued isolation of the Gaza strip.”
"We talked about the issue of Gaza and the futility of isolating Gaza," he said, in comments translated into English.
"There are millions of people living in Gaza and they are in need of food supplies and medicine," Attiyah said.
"There must be a way to open the crossing points to all parties to enable the people in Gaza to live," he added.
Israel continuously allows humanitarian aid and other materials into Gaza and has approved hundreds of internationally funded and monitored projects in Gaza.
Most recently, Israel agreed to allow limited quantities of building materials for use by the private sector into Gaza. Hamas, which rules Gaza, “rewarded” Israel for the gesture by building a terror tunnel that ran from Gaza and extended for 2.5 kilometers (over 1.5 miles) into Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha.
As part of the peace talks, Kerry has asked both sides to keep the details of the negotiations secret in order to give the process a chance to work. Israeli officials have remain tight-lipped about the talks but PA officials have made several leaks to the press.
A recent leak involved a PA official saying that during the negotiations, Israel agreed to a wholesale deportation of thousands of Jews from Judea and Samaria and the transfer of their property to PA Arabs. However, the PA official who reported on that Israeli offer added that the PA side had rejected it as not going far enough.
In an earlier leak to the press, the PA's chief negotiator , Saeb Erekat, told an Arabic radio station that the U.S. has guaranteed the PA all of its key preconditions in advance of negotiations.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas recently stated that unless Israel meets all of his preconditions, there will be no peace.
Those preconditions include a Palestinian state whose capital is Jerusalem, based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Six Day War, and a release of all PA Arab terrorists from Israeli jails.