US Secretary of State John Kerry has met the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a bid to salvage foundering peace talks that were dealt a new blow when Arab leaders said they would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Kerry and Abbas spoke for more than four hours over a working dinner in the Jordanian capital of Amman that US officials said were “constructive.” No other details of the meeting were released.
Kerry planned further talks with Abbas and with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the coming days.
Kerry flew from Rome to Amman to see Abbas as negotiations approached a critical April 30 deadline for a settlement. The Palestinians have threatened to walk away before then unless Israel releases a group of prisoners, as it agreed to, by Saturday.
Speaking to reporters earlier on Wednesday in Kuwait, Abbas said he still was waiting to receive a formal framework proposal from Kerry. He said there have been no talks on extending negotiations beyond the April deadline, adding that the coming month would be “a very important period”.
Wednesday’s announcement by the Arab League, blaming Israel for a lack of progress in the Middle East peace process, put up another roadblock. The communique, issued at the end of a two-day summit, also rejected “the continuation of settlements, Judaisation of Jerusalem, and attacks in its Muslim and Christian shrines.”
The League’s announcement that it would not recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people rejected a key demand of Netanyahu. The Palestinians say such recognition would undermine the rights of Palestinian refugees and Israel’s Arab minority.
In Amman, Kerry met first on Wednesday with Jordan’s King Abdullah II before the dinner with Abbas. Kerry planned to return to Rome on Thursday to join President Barack Obama at meetings with Pope Francis and Italian officials. Kerry will then join Obama in Saudi Arabia on Friday and Saturday.
(Al Jazeera and agencies – www.aljazeera.com)