Kerry: Mideast peace talks at ‘critical’ moment

Kerry says the difference between Israelis and Palestinians is the ‘process’ and not the ‘fundamentals’ of the final status agreement

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Thursday that the Middle East peace talks were facing a “critical moment,” but he said the differences between Israeli and Palestinians is about the “process” and not the “fundamentals” on how to implement the final status agreement.

Negotiating teams in Jerusalem made progress in overnight talks that stretched until 4:00 am (0100 GMT), but “there is still a gap and that gap needs to close fairly soon,” Agence France-Presse quoted Kerry as telling reporters in Algeria.

He said the current disagreements were over “process” rather than “the fundamental substance of a final status agreement.”

If the two sides can’t find a way to continue talking, Kerry said, “it would be a tragedy for both of them.”

He added: “You can facilitate, you can push, you can nudge, but the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions to compromise.”

“The leaders have to lead, and they have to be able to see a moment when it’s there,” he added, showing signs of frustration after his months-long peace efforts appeared to be in tatters.

Negotiating teams from the U.S., Israel and Palestine met late Wednesday to try to chart a path forward after both sides took steps Washington has criticized as “unhelpful.”

“There’s an old saying, ‘You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink,’” Kerry said at the Algerian foreign ministry.

“Now’s the time to drink; the leaders need to know that.”

He added that the United States remained committed to the talks, and said that after the trilateral meeting on Wednesday discussions would continue.

Kerry has spent much of the last two weeks frantically trying to keep the peace talks from breaking down.

He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel on Monday and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas last week in Jordan, but cancelled a return trip on Wednesday after the Palestinians said they would seek greater United Nations recognition over Israeli objections.

Abbas announced the move after Israel refused to release a group of Palestinian prisoners it had earlier agreed to free.

Both actions run counter to the agreement the two sides reached last year to negotiate a settlement by the end of April.

Kerry said Thursday that progress had been made in resolving “some of the questions that have arisen as a result of the events of the past few days. But there is a still a gap and that gap will have to be closed in the next few days.”

Despite eight months of talks, there have been few, if any, tangible signs of progress. But Kerry said both Netanyahu and Abbas have told him they remain committed to the process after meeting Wednesday.

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