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January 01, 2014

Kerry Heads to Jerusalem, Ramallah for 'Framework' Talks on Mideast Peace

by Jeff Seldin

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is making another foray into the Middle East, hoping to give momentum to peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Officials say he will present both sides with a broad outline, or framework, of what a final deal could look like.

As a new year dawns on the Middle East, doubts persist in the West Bank city of Hebron that these latest talks can bring change.

"History repeats itself. The last forty years are all the same. The Americans come here only to protect their own and Israel's interests, not the Palestinian interests," said Ayeed Al Kumeria, a Palestinian from Hebron.

There also is anger. Suspected Jewish extremists torched cars Tuesday in a West Bank refugee camp, and left Hebrew graffiti warning U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that blood would be spilled.

Kerry is to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, presenting them with a proposed framework for negotiations on the core issues separating the two sides.

But earlier this week, the U.S. State Department was quick to downplay expectations. Deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, "We’re hoping to make progress in narrowing the gaps on this trip, but don’t want to predict whether we’ll reach agreement on this framework during these few days."

A lack of progress has all but ended hopes of getting a final agreement by the initial target date at end of April. And, in some ways, the sides seem as far apart as ever.

Kerry's trip follows Israel's release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, part of the U.S.-brokered deal to restart the talks. The Palestinian president personally welcomed some of those prisoners.

"We will not sign a final peace deal with Israel until all the prisoners are released," said Abbas.

Netanyahu bristled at (was angered by) the display for those he called murderers. "Peace can only exist when the education for incitement is stopped. Only when the education for the disappearance of Israel and the glorification of terror is stopped."

Adding to the tensions, Israel's plans to announce more building in the West Bank - something it has often done after a prisoner release - though Israeli media say this time any announcement has been put on hold until after Kerry's visit.