Ben Gurion Airport (Israel) (AFP) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry touched down at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv Thursday, starting a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories to push peace talks forward.
Kerry arrived on schedule at around 2:00 pm (1200 GMT) on a four-day visit, his 10th to the region since taking office in March, an AFP correspondent travelling with the top U.S. diplomat said.
He was to hold talks in Jerusalem later in the day with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, launching what is expected to be an intense process of shuttling back and forth between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Kerry has faced fierce opposition from both sides to any compromise on mostly irreconcilable demands since he kick-started direct negotiations in July after a three-year hiatus.
Kerry’s visit comes as Palestinian and Israeli leaders accuse each other of lacking serious commitment to achieve a lasting peace after decades of conflict.
A State Department official told AFP ahead of the four-day trip that Kerry aims to hammer out a framework to guide the sides through the tough final months of talks, due to end in late April after an agreed nine-month negotiating period.
Kerry and his team, led by special envoy and former ambassador Martin Indyk, hope to have the framework in place soon, addressing the core issues.
These include the contours of the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Jerusalem which is claimed by both sides as their capital, and Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinians want borders based on the 1967 lines that existed before the Six-Day War, when Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
But Israel wants to hold onto existing settlements it has built inside occupied Palestinian territory since then.
On security, Israel wants to maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley, where the West Bank borders Jordan, under any future peace deal.
The Palestinians reject this demand, seeking instead for an international force to be stationed there to guarantee security.