ALGIERS — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by telephone Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after both sides broke parts of an agreement on talks toward a two-state solution. Kerry is in Algiers, where he discussed prospects for Mideast peace with Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra.
Kerry says U.S. negotiators met with Israeli and Palestinian officials in overnight talks that lasted until four in the morning in an effort to move the peace process forward.
"I think it is a critical moment, obviously," he said. "The dialogue remains open. There was progress made in narrowing some of the questions that have arisen as a result of the events of the last few days. But there is still a gap. But that gap will have to be closed and close fairly soon."
The events of the past few days have been the biggest challenges to eight months of peace talks. They include the Israeli Cabinet failing to approve the release of a group of Palestinian prisoners and Palestinian officials voting to join 15 international organizations that would draw them closer to enhanced U.N. recognition.
Kerry says Netanyahu and Abbas both understand what the choices are and what the stakes are, as well as their own limits and dynamics. He says the fight here is not over the fundamental substance of a final status agreement on a two-state solution, but rather over the process to get there.
"It would be a tragedy for both of them, we would say, for them to lose the opportunity to get to those real issues that are the differences of a final status agreement," Kerry said. "A fight over process - how to get into a negotiation - should not stop you from getting into that negotiation. And so I hope they will consider that very, very carefully."
Kerry says the United States will continue to do everything in its power "to try to bring them together, to find the place of reasonableness, to encourage them to compromise, to show ways in which they might do so. But in the end, they are the ones who have to say "yes."
"You can facilitate. You can push," Kerry said. "You can nudge. But the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions and compromises. The leaders have to lead, and they have to be able to see a moment when it is there."
Each side is accusing the other of violating agreements guiding these U.S.-led talks that are scheduled to stop at the end of this month.