(JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said talks between Israelis and Palestinians entered a difficult phase over security guarantees.
Speaking in Tel Aviv before returning to the United States, Kerry said the sides remained committed to advancing toward a peace agreement and that he expected to return to the region in a week or so.
“Despite the fact that we are discussing really difficult, complicated issues, I am encouraged by the continued commitment of both leaders to the pursuit of peace,” Kerry said at a press conference at the airport. “And they both underscored their commitment to continue to work through these difficult issues in the days ahead.”
Kerry said the issue currently at hand has to do with security guarantees for Israel.
“We’ve gone through a very detailed, lengthy, in-depth analysis of the security challenges of the region, and particularly the challenges to Israel and to the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian state,” Kerry said. “Security is paramount in the minds of the prime minister and his team with respect to their ability to be able to move forward with other issues that have to be dealt with. If Israel’s security cannot be increased through this agreement, it’s very difficult to make an agreement.”
Kerry did not offer further details, but a sticking point appeared to be the fate of the Jordan Valley, the area contiguous with the border with Jordan, where Israel wants to maintain a prolonged military presence. Reports said the Israeli side rejected plans for some Palestinian control at border crossings as well as a reduced Israeli presence.
Reports also said the Palestinian side was unhappy with the American proposals, saying they rejected any continued Israeli presence in Palestinian areas. Palestinians also are unhappy with Israeli settlement growth in the West Bank.
Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that talks were “difficult and complicated.”
Erekat told AFP that Abbas and Kerry addressed security in their talks.
“We hope Israel will stick to its commitments and be forced to stop settlement building,” he told the French news agency. “Settlements are the reason for the difficulties in negotiations.”