March 17, 2014 - 16:54 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - U.S. President Barack Obama is to hold talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as the deadline for a peace deal with Israel nears, BBC News reports.
At a meeting in Washington on Sunday, March 16, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Abbas to make "the tough decisions that will be necessary" by April 29.
Kerry wants both sides to approve a "framework" accord that would enable the talks to continue beyond that date. But Palestinian officials say the prospect is "disappearing day by day".
Two weeks' ago, Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a peace deal required "compromise on all sides".
While offering no concessions in public, Netanyahu insisted: "Israel has been doing its part and I regret to say that the Palestinians have not."
Obama and Kerry brought the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table last July after three years without direct talks, and said at the time that their objective was to achieve a "final-status agreement over the course of the next nine months".
However, there has been little sign of progress and U.S. officials say they are now trying to forge a framework that "narrows the gaps" on core issues and allows negotiations to continue beyond the end of April.
The issues include the borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state; the status of Jerusalem; Israel's insistence that it be recognized as a Jewish state; the Palestinians' demand that their refugees be allowed to return to their former homes in what is now Israel; and security in the West Bank, with Israel wanting a long-term presence in the Jordan Valley.
According to the BBC, a senior U.S. state department official said Kerry had reiterated to Abbas "that we are at a pivotal time in the negotiations and while these issues have decades of history behind them, neither party should let tough political decisions at this stage stand in the way of a lasting peace".
But an official at the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which represents the Palestinians at the negotiations, said its team felt it did not "have a partner on the Israeli side".
The pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat reported that at his meeting with President Obama, Abbas would demand that Israel halt all construction at Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank as well as the release of high-profile Palestinian prisoners as a condition for agreeing to extend the peace talks beyond April 29.
Sources were cited as saying that the prisoners would include Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader serving multiple life sentences after being convicted of murdering Israelis, and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader Ahmed Saadat, jailed for 30 years for his alleged role in the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi in 2001.
Netanyahu is insisting on Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, but Mr Abbas has refused. The Palestinians recognize the State of Israel, but say recognizing its Jewish character would have implications for Palestinian refugees and Israeli-Arabs.
On Sunday, Hamas, the Islamist movement that governs Gaza, prevented a coalition of Mr Abbas's Fatah party and leftist organisations from holding a rally in support of the president.
Fatah official Amal Hammad said the aim of the rally had been to shore up Abbas against Israeli and U.S. pressure, and that the crackdown would "not serve national unity or national reconciliation".
The Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said it decided to stop the rally in order to "maintain the state of general security".