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Kerry meets Palestinian negotiator about talks

AMMAN, Jordan – After Palestinian leaders demanded further guarantees before restarting talks with Israel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed his ideas with the chief Palestinian negotiator in Amman on Friday.

A stormy, high-level meeting of senior Palestinian leaders called to discuss U.S Kerry’s latest peace proposal ended with a decision early Friday to demand that Israel agree on the general border of a future Palestinian state, officials said.

The demand casts a cloud of uncertainty over months of U.S. mediation efforts because Israel rejects preconditions.

Hoping to push Israelis and Palestinians toward talks, President Barack Obama asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to work with Kerry “to resume negotiations with Palestinians as soon as possible,” according to a statement released by the White House late Thursday.

No details were immediately available about Kerry’s meeting with Erekat, which lasted about an hour.

The Palestinians demand is that the starting point for border talks must be the cease-fire line that held from 1949 until the 1967 war, when Israel captured the West Bank. Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Palestinians claim those territories for their future state, with modifications reached through agreed land swaps that could allow major Jewish settlement blocs built in the West Bank becoming part of Israel proper, in exchange for territories in Israel.

Previous Israeli governments twice negotiated on the basis of the 1967 lines, but no peace accord was reached.

Palestinian official Wasel Abu Yussef said Erekat would ask for more clarifications from Kerry on what Israel expects from negotiations.

Abu Yussef said Palestinians did not want to reject Kerry’s efforts to restart negotiations outright.

The Palestinians did not bring up their often-repeated demand that Israel stop building in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem before talks could resume. One official said that if Israel accepts the 1967 lines as a basis, that would make most of the settlements illegitimate.

While Kerry has not publicized details of his plan, the Arab League’s decision Wednesday to endorse his proposal raised speculation that the Palestinians would agree. Abbas traditionally has sought the blessing of his Arab brethren before making any major diplomatic initiative.

U.S. officials played down hopes that negotiations would begin soon.

“There are currently no plans for an announcement on the resumption of negotiations,” Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for Kerry, told reporters in Jordan. An Israeli Cabinet minister said no deal was imminent.

Kerry has been shuttling for months in search of a formula to allow resumption of talks after a nearly five-year break. Talks have been stalled since late 2008.

Ahmed Majdalani, a PLO executive committee member, said Kerry has proposed holding talks for six to nine months focusing on the key issues of borders and security arrangements.

He said Kerry would endorse the 1967 lines as the starting point of negotiations and assured the Palestinians that Israel would free some 350 prisoners gradually in the coming months. The prisoners would include some 100 men that Israel convicted of crimes committed before interim peace accords were signed in 1993. Israel has balked at freeing these prisoners in the past because many were convicted in deadly attacks.

Although the plan does not include a settlement freeze, it was not clear whether Israel would accept any reference to the 1967 lines.

Israeli Cabinet minister Yair Lapid said it was “too early to say” whether Kerry had found a formula for talks.

“Secretary Kerry has done a tremendous job in trying to put both sides together,” he told The Associated Press. “Of course Israel is more than willing and has expressed its agreement to go back to the negotiation table, but apparently it’s going to take a little more time.”

While Israel has balked at Palestinian demands, the international community has largely rallied behind the Palestinian position on borders and Jewish settlements.

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