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Palestinian official on fresh peace talks: 'It's definitely happening'

Palestinian officials in Ramallah are optimistic that new negotiations with Israel, which have been on hold for four years, are about to begin.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is joined by Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas at the King Hussein Convention Centre on May 26, 2013 (Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images)

RAMALLAH — High-level Palestinian officials in Ramallah say they are confident fresh peace negotiations with Israel will be announced soon.

"It's definitely happening," one Palestinian official said of the peace talks, adding that the process was halted after US Secretary of State John Kerry’s wife fell ill last week. “But now, everything is moving again.”

On Wednesday, a Palestinian official confirmed to Reuters that President Mahmoud Abbas would meet with the rest of the Palestinian leadership to discuss an offer from Kerry, without giving any details of the proposal. The meeting will take place in Ramallah on Thursday, said Wasel Abu Youssef of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The office of Israel's chief peace negotiator, Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni, declined to officially comment. A source close to the Israeli negotiation team urged caution, pointing to instances where both sides leaked talks of three-way peace summits brokered by Kerry but they never materialized. 

Kerry landed in the Jordanian capital Amman Tuesday, on his sixth trip to the region since taking office in February. According to his official schedule, he will not be traveling to Israel or the West Bank.

Instead, the top US diplomat will be meeting with Arab leaders about the crisis situations in Syria and Egypt. 

But according to Palestinian officials and local media reports, Kerry will meet with Abbas in Amman at some point in the coming three days.

Palestinian officials and others close to the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah are optimistic that new negotiations, which have been on hold for four years, are about to begin. 

One source present at a July 2 meeting between Abbas and Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said the discussion sounded as if an announcement is imminent.

“It sounded as if talks would be renewed any minute,” the source said. “They are only waiting for a formal statement — but they’re talking as if it’s already on.”

So far, officials have released few if any details of Kerry’s initiative to bring Palestinian and Israeli leaders back to the negotiating table. The Palestinian officials interviewed for this story also did not release any information about when or where the new talks might take place. 

More from GlobalPost: Introducing the Kerry Initiative: a secret, new Mideast peace plan

But some signs outside of the closed discussions point to possible progress. A major plan to stabilize and grow the Palestinian economy includes a $4 billion stimulus package devised by Kerry. 

In another development in June, the Israeli and Palestinian finance ministers met to discuss renewed economic cooperation between the two sides. 

Substantive differences remain between the two sides. The Palestinians demand a capital in East Jerusalem, the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails and the right of return for Palestinians living in the diaspora. Israel is demanding recognition as a Jewish state, the annexation of significant West Bank settlement blocs and that any future Palestinian state be demilitarized.

In the meantime, Israeli officials and analysts in Jerusalem say Kerry may try to turn Abbas' growing confidence and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s domestic political crisis into an opportunity to nudge peace talks forward.

Abbas is said to have gained strength following the ouster of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi — an ally of Abbas’ Hamas rivals in the Gaza Strip — as well as with the recent departure of former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad.

Netanyahu is facing rebellion from the right-wing flank of his own party, and public bickering among his ministers regarding the usefulness, or even the possibility, of renewed talks with Palestinians.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/130716/palestinian-israel-peace-talks-ramallah-john-kerry-netanyahu