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July 1, 2013

Kerry says progress made in peace talks

TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry completed a new round of shuttle diplomacy Sunday without a hoped-for breakthrough in relaunching Mideast peace talks, but optimistically said he had narrowed the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians and vowed to return to the region soon to complete his mission.

Kerry said he was working on an emerging “package” meant to bring the sides together, and said he would leave a team of aides in the region to continue the efforts.

“With a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach,” he told reporters, shortly before leaving Israel for an Asian security conference in Brunei.

It was not clear how much progress Kerry had truly made. He refused to provide details of the package he is working on, and Israeli and Palestinian officials, at Kerry’s request, remained mum.

Even before negotiations have begun, the gaps remain wide on simply establishing the ground rules.

Negotiations have been stalled since 2008, in large part due to Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians claim both areas, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, for a future independent state alongside Israel and have demanded that Israel stop building settlements on occupied lands before talks resume. More than 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in areas sought by the Palestinians, making it increasingly difficult to partition the land into two states.

The Palestinians also say Israel’s pre-1967 frontiers should be the baseline for the final borders between Israel and a future Palestine. Previous Israeli leaders have accepted the 1967 lines as a starting point for talks. But Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, while endorsing the idea of a Palestinian state, has refused the Palestinian demands, saying talks should begin immediately without any preconditions.

Netanyahu has ruled out a return to the 1967 lines, saying it would threaten Israel’s security.

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