Benjamin Netanyahu's hardline coalition partners on Sunday stepped up pressure on the Israeli prime minister, threatening to topple the government if he caves in to American pressure to accept a key Palestinian territorial demand in U.S.-backed peace talks.
The warnings came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took a brief break after three days of talks with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, jetting off to the Arab world to discuss his efforts before an expected return to Jerusalem later Sunday.
In a sign that Kerry is intensifying the pressure, a Palestinian official confirmed that the secretary asked Abbas to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland. Abbas has repeatedly rejected this Israeli demand, saying it would compromise the rights of Palestinian refugees and Israel's Arab minority. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Kerry has barred the sides from discussing the negotiations in public.
Kerry was meeting with the leaders of Jordan and Saudi Arabia on Sunday, possibly to win Arab backing for any Palestinian concessions.
Before departing, Kerry told reporters that had he made some progress in his marathon talks over the weekend. He praised both Abbas and Netanyahu for making "difficult decisions."
"You can see in the press and you see in the public debate that the choices they're making elicit strong responses from their people. And I understand that very, very well," Kerry said.
Under heavy U.S. pressure, Israel and the Palestinians agreed last July to relaunch their first substantive talks in nearly five years. With an April target date for an agreement looming, Kerry has increased his involvement by presenting bridging proposals on this trip to try to reach a framework agreement that would spell out the terms for a final peace deal.