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Kerry Speaks with Netanyahu Ahead of Possible Visit

U.S. Secretary of State speaks with PM Netanyahu amid reports he is planning another trip to the Middle East.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 3/31/2014, 4:46 AM

John Kerry in Tel Aviv
John Kerry in Tel Aviv
Flash 90

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday night, amid reports that he was considering making another trip to the region in order to save the peace process.

According to AFP, after the conversation with Netanyahu, Kerry told reporters in Paris that it was not yet appropriate for the U.S. to make any public judgment of the situation "at this important moment."

"It's really a question between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and what prime minister Netanyahu is prepared to do," he added.

"We'll see where we are tomorrow when some judgments have to be made," Kerry added.

The comments come in the wake of a deadlock over the continuation of the peace process past an April 29 deadline Kerry had set when talks restarted in July.

The PA is demanding that Israel free the fourth batch of terrorists it promised to release as a “gesture”, so that talks will continue. Cabinet ministers have pressured Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to go through with the fourth release, given that there has been little progress in the peace process, and also in the wake of statements by PA officials that they were staying in the talks only for the terrorist releases.

On Friday, PA official Jibril Rajoub said that Israel had informed the PA through American mediator Martin Indyk that it will not release the fourth batch of terrorists, adding that the move was a "slap in the face of the U.S. administration and its efforts."

Hours later, Fatah official Hazem Abu Shanab said that Israel would regret its decision not to go through with the release of the fourth batch.

Israel on Sunday handed the PA a proposal they hope will lead to an extension of their peace talks beyond the April 29 deadline, according to AFP.

According to a PA official, Israel presented PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas with a draft agreement to re-launch talks. Abbas was to examine the proposal during the night, he said.

Ziad Abu Ein, undersecretary for the PA’s ministry of prisoner affairs, told the Ma’an news agency on Monday night that the PA leadership will hold a meeting on Monday to discuss further steps if Israel does not release the fourth group of terrorists.

He added that the meeting was called to discuss steps that could be taken in case Israel reneges on the deal to release the last group.

Abu Ein told the news agency that there are proposals to release other terrorists but refused to elaborate, adding that Abbas refuses to discuss anything until the fourth group is released.

There have been conflicting reports regarding the terrorist release over the past few days, with unnamed PA officials claiming on Saturday night that Israel had offered to release 400 terrorists from its prisons so that peace talks continue.

That report was met with outrage by Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett, who said that such a release will never take place.

Another report said that Netanyahu had told Kerry that his governing coalition may fall apart if Israel goes ahead with the fourth planned tranche in the terrorist release.