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Kerry bound for Middle East to salvage peace process

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in a bid to salvage the faltering peace process.

“Secretary Kerry will land in Tel Aviv with possible meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah over the next day,” said a statement issued by the State Department early Monday.

In a separate statement, Jen Psaki, Kerry’s spokeswoman, said Kerry believed it would be “productive” to visit the region after a week of intensive shuttle diplomacy by a team led by his top Middle East negotiator, Martin Indyk.

“Our negotiating team has been working with both parties on the ground to help them agree on a path forward, and Secretary Kerry has kept in close touch with his counterparts by phone,” she said. “After consulting with his team, Secretary Kerry decided it would be productive to return to the region.”

Psaki’s statement appeared to appeal to the sides to stay at the table.

“Over the course of the last eight months, the Israelis and Palestinians have both made tough choices, and as we work with them to determine the next steps, it is important they remember that only peace will bring the Israeli and Palestinian people both the security and economic prosperity they all deserve,” she said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu let a deadline lapse Saturday in Israel’s pledge to release a batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorism-related acts prior to the 1993 Oslo accords.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said he would leave the talks without the release. Israeli officials have said that they want Abbas to commit to continue negotiations in order for the release to take place. Israel has released 78 prisoners since talks began in July last year.

Kerry, when he convened the renewed talks last July, at first hoped for a final status agreement by the end of April. That was later downgraded to a framework to form the basis for continued talks, and in recent weeks to simply extending the talks for another nine months.

Abbas has said absent the talks, he will go back to seeking statehood recognition in international forums.

Key disagreements obstructing the advance of talks include whether Israel maintains a presence in the Jordan Valley, the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem and the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

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