U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in his tenth visit to Israel since taking office, met on Thursday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, AFP reported.
Kerry’s latest visit is an attempt to push a framework for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The two met in Jerusalem, launching what is expected to be an intense four days of shuttle diplomacy between Israeli and PA leaders.
Kerry's meeting with Netanyahu, which included a joint dinner, took five hours, officials told AFP.
The top American diplomat will be meeting with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Liberman on Friday morning before meeting again with Netanyahu, and later in the day heading to Ramallah for talks with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
"I plan to work with both sides more intensely in these next days to narrow the differences on a framework that will provide the agreed guidelines for permanent status negotiations," Kerry told reporters at a press conference before meeting Netanyahu one on one.
"An agreed framework would be a significant breakthrough," he added.
In his comments to reporters, Netanyahu repeated that he did not believe the PA was taking the process seriously.
"Unfortunately, given the actions and words of Palestinian leaders, there's growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace," he said.
"A few days ago in Ramallah, president Abbas embraced terrorists as heroes... How can he say that he stands against terrorism when he embraces the perpetrators of terrorism and glorifies them as heroes?" added Netanyahu, referring to the PA’s celebration late Monday night after Israel released 26 terrorist murderers as a “gesture” to the PA.
A State Department official said ahead of Kerry's trip that he aims to hammer out a framework to guide the sides through the tough final months of talks, due to end in late April.
Kerry and his team hope to have the framework in place soon, addressing the core issues.
These include the contours of the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Jerusalem which both sides claim as their capital, and the issue of the so-called “Palestinian refugees” with which the PA wants to flood Israel.
U.S. officials cautioned earlier this week they were not expecting any breakthroughs on this trip.
There continues to be a wide rift between the sides on many issues, including Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria. Earlier this week, Abbas threatened to take legal and diplomatic action to halt Israeli building in Judea and Samaria, which he termed a “cancer.”
Netanyahu had been planning to announce new tenders for construction in Judea and Samaria this week, parallel to the release of the 26 terrorists, but decided at the last minute to put it off until after Kerry leaves.
Another point of contention in recent days has become the Jordan Valley, which is essential to Israel’s continued security.
Kerry is reportedly attempting to force a deal on Israel and the PA which would see an Israeli "withdrawal" from all of Judea and Samaria, but allow for a temporary arrangement whereby IDF and/or foreign forces would maintain a presence in the Jordan Valley.
The Israeli government argues the Valley is strategically important, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has insisted in the past that, in the event of a withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, Israel would still keep troops in the area.
Earlier this week, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted in favor of a bill that would see Israel annex the Jordan Valley. As expected, the PA reacted by expressing outrage, with Abbas declaring that an Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley would be a "red line" as far as he is concerned.