JERUSALEM, Israel -- Secretary of State John Kerry plans to return to Israel in two weeks to keep the momentum up for restarting peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. According to one Israeli official quoted by YNet, talks will resume "in the near future."
"Israel has presented to the United States a list of measures it is willing to take, including freezing or slowing the pace of construction outside the settlement blocs," the official reportedly said. "Now we are awaiting a response from the Palestinian side. They must express their opinion and willingness, but the overall direction is the resumption of talks in the near future."
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud), however, rejected talk of a building moratorium, saying that has never advanced the peace process.
In 2009, under pressure from the Obama administration, Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month construction freeze in Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria to coax the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
The gesture proved fruitless. Talks resumed briefly just as the moratorium was due to expire, then froze again within a matter of weeks. The move only elicited another demand from the Palestinians for a further freeze, which has since evolved into a precondition for restarting talks.
"In recent days we have been hearing talk of a construction freeze," Danon said Thursday at the Moscowitz Prize for Zionism ceremony, Arutz Sheva reported. "There will be no construction freeze in the land of Israel -- not in Jerusalem and not in Judea and Samaria," he said.
"We proved in the past that freezing construction does not advance peace and therefore we will continue to build throughout the land of Israel," Danon concluded.
Meanwhile, Kerry met with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's top negotiator, in Rome on Wednesday.
Netanyahu appointed Livni to lead the negotiations under his oversight. It was the second meeting in two weeks; the three met in D.C. at the beginning of May.
Renewed negotiations will apparently bring some new mediators, including China, Jordan and possibly Turkey.
China's new leadership signaled its desire to weigh in on talks by inviting Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to visit from May 5-7 and Netanyahu from May 6-10.
Chinese President Xi Jinping released statements supporting the P.A.'s "just cause," backing a two-state solution based on land for peace and demanding a construction freeze, while acknowledging "Israel's right to exist" and saying its "legitimate security concerns should be "fully respected."