Israel, Palestinians closest to peace 'in years': Kerry
JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry during a press conference following a meeting at Netanyahu's Jerusalem office on December 5, 2013. AFP PhotoIsrael and the Palestinians are closer to a peace deal than they have been in years, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Dec. 6 wrapping up his latest visit.
"I believe we are closer than we have been in years to bringing about the peace and the prosperity and the security that all of the people of this region deserve," he told reporters travelling with his delegation at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.
His remarks were made after a day-and-a-half of talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials aimed at driving forward the direct negotiations which began in late July but have made little apparent progress as they approach the halfway point.
Remembering the life of Nelson Mandela, who died late Dec. 5, Kerry said the example set by the South African peacemaker should be of particular inspiration for those engaged in the talks.
"The naysayers are wrong to call peace in this region an impossible goal," Kerry said, before quoting Mandela: "It always seems impossible until it's done."
Kerry was meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the third time in 24 hours Dec. 6 for talks understood to be focused on security.
Kerry, who is seeking ways to drive forward stagnant peace talks, met twice with Netanyahu Dec. 5 for more than six hours of talks about potential security issues in any peace agreement.
He also held a three-hour meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
On Friday, Kerry met Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid at a Jerusalem hotel before entering another round of talks with Netanyahu, officials said.
Security 'fundemantal' for peace talks
Kerry has said Israel's security is "fundamental" to the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, and a top priority for Washington in nuclear negotiations with Iran.
But his talks in Ramallah did not appear to go so well, with a senior official saying US proposals on security were unacceptable.
"Today, we discussed at great length issues of security in the region, security for the state of Israel, security for a future Palestine. And we, I think, made some progress," said Kerry.
"The interests are very similar, but there are questions of sovereignty, questions of respect and dignity which are obviously significant to the Palestinians, and for the Israelis -- very serious questions of security," he said.
Chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP the situation was "still very difficult and matters are complicated" but another senior Palestinian source was more direct, saying Kerry's security proposals "were very bad ideas which we cannot accept".
In talks with Netanyahu Dec. 5, Kerry and top security adviser General John Allen outlined their view of some of the security challenges likely to face Israel in the context of a final peace agreement.
Maariv newspaper said Israeli officials were pleased with Kerry's security proposals, but firm opposition from the Palestinians was what prompted him to schedule a third meeting with Netanyahu. A diplomatic source quoted by the paper said Washington "had moved considerably in the direction of Israel's demands" and had "accepted Israel's position on a long-term presence in the Jordan Valley".
The outline "gives good answers to the Israeli demands and is very forthcoming towards Israel," the source said.
Earlier this week, Haaretz newspaper said Washington was focusing on resolving Israel's security needs in the hope it would allow them to push Netanyahu on other aspects, such as the borders of a future Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has said Israel would only accept the emergence of a Palestinian state if it was demilitarised, with Israeli troops deployed along the Jordan Valley, an option the Palestinians completely reject.