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Kerry in Mideast to propose peace framework

From Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter
updated 8:05 PM EST, Thu January 2, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens on Thursday as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a statement before a meeting at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens on Thursday as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a statement before a meeting at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "There is growing doubt in Israel" that Palestinians want peace, Netanyahu says
  • Kerry will address issues with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in substantive way
  • Talks this time are based on five months of intensive consultations with the leaders
  • The United States appears to be taking a more muscular role in peace effort

Washington (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is back in the Middle East where he plans to propose a framework for a lasting peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, saying the time is close for tough decision-making.

Kerry arrived in Tel Aviv on Thursday and immediately headed for Jerusalem, the start of his ninth trip to the region since taking over as America's top diplomat nearly a year ago.

A senior State Department official said Kerry's talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be substantive.

"It is an effort to provide agreed guidelines for a permanent status agreement, that is to say, a full and final peace treaty between the parties," the official said.

Kerry said in Jerusalem "we know the parameters and the possibilities of peace" after several months of discussions.

He met with Netanyahu first, but the Israeli leader was not optimistic in brief public remarks. He expressed fresh doubts the Palestinians were committed to peace.

"I know that you are committed to peace. I know that I am committed to peace. But, unfortunately, given the actions and words of Palestinian leaders, there's growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace," Netanyahu said in a speech at the start of his meeting with Kerry.

During the remarks, Netanyahu accused Abbas of glorifying a group of Palestinian prisoners recently released by Israel. The release of the prisoners is part of a U.S.-backed deal to jump-start peace talks.

Meanwhile, Palestinians have accused Netanyahu of sabotaging the talks with the announcement of new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- areas that are considered key in any creation of a Palestinian state.

With Mideast peace in mind, Kerry coaxes Israel on Iran

Kerry's proposal is based on five months of intensive consultations with Israelis and Palestinians since the resumption of the peace process last summer. He intends to test them on some of the ideas resulting from those talks.

The purpose of the trip is for Kerry to "climb with the two leaders to the top of the hill and be able to share with them the view of what's on the other side, what peace will look like in terms of all of the core issues that have to be resolved between them," the official said.

The hope is that it will be easier to finalize details once the shared vision is understood, the official added.

But gaps remain, and the United States acknowledges that achieving the ultimate goal will not be easy as evidenced by recent actions by both sides.

With direct negotiations between the two sides flailing, the Obama administration seems to have moved into a more muscular role as mediator by presenting its own bridging proposals instead of relying on the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate between themselves.

With Mideast peace in mind, Kerry coaxes Israel on Iran

CNN's Halimah Abdullah contributed to this report.

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