AMMAN (AFP) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Wednesday with Arab League officials to discuss his push to thaw out the frozen peace process, as Palestinians said there had been progress.
The meeting came after five hours of talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Jordan as they shared a traditional iftar dinner to break the day-long fast during the holy month of Ramadan which stretched into the early hours of Wednesday.
“They continued the conversation they have been having for the last few months and touched on recent developments,” a senior State Department official said in a statement.
The two men also “discussed details of an economic plan that would help bolster the Palestinian economy” by attracting some $4 billion (3.04 billion euros) in private investment into the territories.
Kerry is on his sixth visit to the region as he seeks to persuade the Israelis and Palestinians to resume direct negotiations which broke down almost three years ago.
A Palestinian official, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP things were moving and Kerry was “determined” to announce a resumption of talks before he leaves the region at the end of the week.
“There has been progress in meetings with Kerry after he presented his initiative to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in a meeting in Amman,” the high-ranking official said.
“The US secretary of state is determined to announce, before he leaves on Friday, a restart of negotiations,” he added.
Kerry on Wednesday briefed a delegation from the Arab League peace initiative on his talks and ideas for resuming the talks stalled since September 2010.
His visit comes however amid Israeli anger over new European Union guidelines barring the 28-member bloc from funding projects in Jewish settlements.
Israeli officials said the EU move was likely to prove a stumbling block to Kerry’s diplomatic efforts.
And indeed there are no immediate plans for Kerry to visit Israel and to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, unlike previous trips to the region when he has shuttled back and forth between Amman and Jerusalem.
In comments to the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag released Wednesday, Netanyahu said the EU policy marked “the attempt to forcibly determine Israel’s borders through economic pressure instead of through negotiations.”
He said such a move was wrong, adding “it hardens the Palestinian position and leads Israel to lose faith in Europe’s neutrality.”
The Palestinians are refusing to return to negotiations without a freeze on settlement activity and Israel’s acceptance of the 1967 lines as the basis for final status negotiations. Israel says it wants talks but without “pre-conditions.”
Kerry also discussed the upheaval in Egypt and the conflict in Syria with the Arab League leaders at the meeting at the foreign ministry in Amman.
Cairo was represented at the talks by ambassador Amr Aboul Atta, Egypt’s permanent representative to the United Nations.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi was also present along with Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki, and ministers and top officials from Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the State Department said.
Kerry is also mulling a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, which would make him the most senior member of the US adminstration to see first hand the tragedy of the conflict now in its third year.
Jordan is hosting some 550,000 refugees who have fled the fighting as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad aided by Hezbollah militants seeks to crush a rebellion against his rule.
The United Nations said Tuesday that 5,000 people a month are dying in the war which has now triggered the worst refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Nearly 1.8 million people are also registered as refugees living in countries neighboring Syria.
It remained uncertain whether Kerry’s visit to a refugee camp would go ahead, due to security and logistical concerns.
Kerry was due to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah II later Wednesday.
Photo Credit: AFP/Mandel Ngan