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Kerry Faces More Hurdles in Pursuit of Mideast Peace

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the latest efforts to secure a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians are slowly but surely making progress. But as he prepares for his 11th trip to the region as secretary of state, not everyone shares his optimism.

A determined and confident Kerry, when leaving Israel earlier this week, told reporters talks are on the right track.

"The path is becoming clearer. The puzzle is becoming more defined," said Kerry.

But in a West Bank village on Tuesday there was more confusion and violence.

"I was working on my land along with my tractor driver and we sat down to eat and have lunch. Suddenly around 30 [Jewish] settlers came towards us. We ran away and we started shouting and asking for help," said farmer Mahmood Tobasi.

Israel's military said it responded to reports of stone-throwing between settlers and Palestinian farmers, later evacuating 11 settlers.

It's in situations like this that U.S. talk of moving toward a framework agreement - getting the core issues in focus - starts to falls short.

Neil Kritz with the U.S. Institute of Peace says that those directly must feel that the process is impacting their lives.

“People need to see that this negotiation results also in positive changes on a day to day basis. Not just efforts to make things look better, but real efforts that are not just way stations, that move in the direction of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution,” says Kritz.

Yet wherever Palestinians and Israelis look, there are still signs that little, so far, has changed, whether it’s Israel's continued building of settlements on contested lands or Palestinians celebrating the release of prisoners, men Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called murderers.

"Instead of preparing Palestinians for peace, Palestinian leaders are teaching them to hate Israel," said Netanyahu.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat took his own shots, suggesting to London-based Asharq Al-Awsat he fears for the life of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, referencing old, discredited allegations that Israel poisoned the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Yet there are those who think a framework agreement is still possible. Among them is Aaron Miller from the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

“Part of the reality is that this is driven by two leaders who don’t want to be blamed for the collapse of this process," says Miller.

But Miller, a former State Department adviser who has been a part of past negotiations, says getting much further with Netanyahu and Abbas will be a challenge.

“The reality is, to do this you need them to be heroic peacemakers because they strategically have bought off on this and they are prepared to make the kinds of decisions, take the kinds of decisions necessary. That’s not the case here,” says Miller.

For now, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry seems determined to try.