Israel Pushing for Extension of Peace Talks Beyond April Deadline

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

Plans announced for 272 homes in Yehudah and Shomron

Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Tuesday that wide gaps remain in peace talks with the Palestinians after  Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest visit, and he cast doubt over the chances of reaching a final accord by an April target.

“We are attempting to achieve a framework for a continuation of negotiations for a period exceeding the nine months in which some thought that we would be able to reach a permanent agreement,” Yaalon told reporters.

“It is clear there are big gaps — they are not new — but it is definitely in our interest to continue the talks,” he said in broadcast remarks, without defining the differences.

Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, said on Tuesday that Kerry would return soon to continue his talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“We will take into account the suggestions, the requests and wishes of the parties and I hope and we will work so that in a few weeks, or perhaps a month — I don’t know how long — we will be ready to present a proposal for a framework on all the core issues,” Shapiro said in Hebrew.

A senior Palestinian official said the Palestinian side was seeking a written framework agreement.

“We want it to address concrete issues, such as saying the Palestinian capital will be ‘East Yerushalayim, not just ‘in Yerushalayim,’” the official said.

In his remarks, Yaalon signalled that Israel was looking for a less rigid “framework” deal than Palestinians were seeking, in an apparent nod to concerns any formal agreement now could stoke opposition from members of the Israeli government.

“We are not dealing with a framework agreement, but with a framework for the continuation of negotiations for a more lengthy period,” Yaalon said, echoing the somewhat mystifying semantics from the State Department.

Shapiro said that Kerry has sat for “many, many hours” with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and has heard from them things that “perhaps nobody else has heard.”

“Even though they have already taken brave decisions, he estimates they both have the ability to take more hard decisions with the support of their respective peoples,” Shapiro said.

Meanwhile, Israel published plans on Monday to build 272 homes in Yehudah and Shomron, even as Kerry wrapped up his 10th peacemaking visit.

Israel says it is building in areas it intends to keep in any final peace agreement.

“What we’re seeing today is the implementation of a decision from October,” said an official in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office. The public will now have 60 days to voice opposition before the plan moves forward in the bureacracy.

A Defense Ministry official said the plans for the Ofra and Karnei Shomron communities were preliminary and must pass a few more stages of authorization before construction could begin.