Kerry Hopes to Rekindle Israeli-PA Peace Talks

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will return to Israel Thursday hoping to arrange a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas has refused to meet with Netanyahu without preconditions. Among those conditions are a full construction freeze outside the 1948 armistice lines, including Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and freeing Arab prisoners sentenced prior to the Oslo Accords.

Last week, the central committee of Abbas' Fatah faction reportedly rejected returning to negotiations without preconditions. Some Israeli media sources said Abbas is considering meeting with Netanyahu.

P.A. chief negotiator Saeb Erekat echoed the Fatah committee pronouncement Tuesday, saying Abbas would not resume negotiations without Israeli agreement on the 1948 armistice lines, a construction freeze, and prisoner release. He added that they're doing everything to make Kerry's visit successful, the Palestine Liberation Organization's official Wafa news agency reported.

According to the Israeli daily Ma'ariv, Netanyahu agreed to release an unspecified number of pre-Oslo prisoners as a goodwill gesture for the Muslim month of Ramadan, which begins on July 7.

The paper also speculates that Netanyahu would consider asking his cabinet to formally freeze construction in Judea and Samaria.

Meanwhile, the prime minister recently took part in the dedication of a new school in Barkan, a Jewish town east of Rosh HaAyin, which is about 12.5 miles from Tel Aviv. The P.A. wants these Shomron communities uprooted as part of a two-state agreement.

Residents named the school after Netanyahu's late father, Prof. Ben-Tzion Netanyahu.

Last year, the Israeli Ministry of Education awarded top honors to Shomron (Samarian) area schools.

At the ceremony, Shomron Regional Council Director Gershon Mesika encouraged Netanyahu to resist pressure from abroad.

"Do not allow yourself to be pressured," Mesika said from the podium. "Look at the pioneering work this wonderful generation has accomplished."

"And remember peace does not mean withdrawal; peace does not mean stealing the home and childhood of a child," he continued. "Real peace, as you have often said, means recognition of the rights of each side, willingness to live together side by side -- not in the uprooting of communities."

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