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Middle East

Kerry urges hard decisions for peace talks

On his fourth visit to Middle East, US secretary of state pushes Israeli and Palestinian leaders to resume negotiations.

Last Modified: 24 May 2013 12:46
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Palestinians have repeatedly said they will resume negotiations if Israel halts construction on seized land [Reuters]

John Kerry, US secretary of state, has urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take "hard decisions" to revive the Middle East peace process.

Kerry has been pressing Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks that broke down in September 2010.

"We're getting toward a time now when hard decisions need to be made," he said in Tel Aviv on Friday at the end of his fourth visit to the region since he took office in February.

The Palestinians have repeatedly said they will only resume negotiations if Israel halts construction on land seized in the 1967 war.

The Israeli government has said there should be no preconditions and prompted anger earlier this month when it moved to legalise four unauthorised West Bank settler outposts.

Kerry said he had raised the issue with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister.

"I made clear in my discussions that the parties should be focused on making progress toward ... direct negotiations," Kerry said, adding that each side needed to "refrain from provocative rhetoric or actions ... that take us backwards".

Scepticism and cynicism

Meeting Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president, in Ramallah in the West Bank and Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday, Kerry admitted there was scepticism and cynicism about his bid to broker new talks.

"I know this region well enough to know there is scepticism, in some quarters there is cynicism, and there are reasons for it. There have been bitter years of disappointment," he said.

But he insisted: "It is our hope that by being methodical, careful, patient, but detailed and tenacious, that we can lay on a  path ahead that can conceivably surprise people and certainly exhaust the possibilities for peace."

And in a powerful message to Palestinians, who are used to just seeing American motorcades sweep by into Abbas's headquarters compound, Kerry went for a stroll along a Ramallah street.

Despite public pronouncements of support, there is growing frustration that there has been little sign of a shift in the long-held positions of the two sides.

Complicating efforts is the new Israeli government, which has moved more towards the right and includes some ministers who oppose a two-state solution.

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