Kerry on return ’commute’ to Israel, West Bank

December 10, 2013 12:36 PM

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WASHINGTON: Secretary of State John Kerry heads back to Israel this week just days after returning from the Jewish state, a US official said Monday, insisting he was working for a full, not an interim, Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Amid a flurry of diplomatic activity, Kerry will leave again for Israel on Wednesday -- his 70th birthday -- five days after he landed back from Jerusalem and after spending most of the weekend meeting in Washington with Israeli leaders.

"This is an important time in the negotiations, and he felt it was important to return to the region," State Department. spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, adding Kerry would spend two days in Israel and Ramallah for talks.

But she denied reports that Kerry and the administration of President Barack Obama were seeking some kind of interim framework ahead of a full accord.

"Just to be absolutely clear, we are not focused on an interim deal, we are focused on a final deal," Psaki told reporters.

All sides remained "committed to a nine-month timeframe" set out earlier this year when Kerry succeeded in bringing the two sides back to the negotiating table after a three-year stalemate.

Kerry will leave Wednesday for his ninth overnight stay in Israel since becoming secretary of state in February, on a trip which will also take him to Vietnam and the Philippines.

Psaki refused however to lay out "all the steps that could be possible to get to a final status agreement, and I'm not going to lay out what the options are."

Kerry revealed he had spoken Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the two men would meet for dinner in Jerusalem on Thursday.

And he joked late Monday at a dinner hosted to mark the centenary year of the humanitarian group the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee that "this is a commute, folks."

"The United States has long viewed Israel's security as absolutely fundamental to our own," he told the dinner.

"We stand squarely beside our Israeli allies and friends and that bond is iron-clad. It will never be broken."

Obama and Kerry had both addressed another gathering, the Saban Forum organized by the Brookings Institution over the weekend in Washington which gathered some of Israel's top leaders.

"It is essential, in my judgment, to reach for a full agreement and to have a framework within which we can try to work for that," Kerry told Saturday's forum.

"And it will have to establish agreed guidelines for subsequent negotiations that will fill out the details in a full-on peace treaty."

Obama also warned the forum that, if there were a final agreement, the Palestinians would have to accept Israel would need a "transition period" to ensure that the West Bank did not become a security threat akin to Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Kerry also met earlier Monday in Washington with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat and his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni.


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