RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Israelis and Palestinians are committed to settling their differences and are working with "great intensity and serious purpose" to achieve that long-sought goal.
"This is hard work," he told reporters after a 2˝-hour meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and then headed back to Jerusalem for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Kerry is trying to nudge them closer to a peace pact that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. He is brokering an intense phase of negotiations aimed at getting the two sides to agree on a framework to guide talks for a final settlement in the intractable dispute.
Reaching a deal on that framework, however, does not seem likely on this trip, Kerry's 10th to the region for Mideast peace talks.
"We're not there yet, but we are making progress," Kerry said. "We are beginning to flush out the toughest hurdles yet to be overcome."
He cited difficult complications and enduring mistrust that have built up over the years. All of that, Kerry said, has to be "worked through and undone and a pathway has to be laid down in which the parties can have confidence that they know what is happening and that the road ahead is real, not illusory."
"We are working with great intensity and serious purpose with a commitment to resolve this conflict," he said.
Kerry said he planned to meet next weekend with officials from the Arab League to update them on his talks. He did not say where that session would take place.
The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said after the Kerry-Abbas discussions that "failure, to us, is not an option."
He urged Israel to refrain from taking any steps that would pre-empt or prevent negotiations on a final agreement, such as new Israeli settlements or the demolition of Palestinian homes.
Ahead of Kerry's arrival in the region this week, Israel had said it would announce plans to build 1,400 new Jewish settlement homes. But Israel backed off making the announcement, at least while Kerry was around.
Erekat said Kerry was doing everything possible to reach a solution that met Palestinians' demands for a state in lands that Israel captured in 1967.
Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh contributed to this report.
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Original headline: Kerry cites some progress in Mideast diplomacy
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