US Secretary of State Kerry jetting back to Israel, West Bank

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivering the keynote address at the 10th Anniversary Saban Forum in Washington on Dec 7, 2013. Mr Kerry will return to Israel and the West Bank this week just days after his last visit, a US official said on Mo
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivering the keynote address at the 10th Anniversary Saban Forum in Washington on Dec 7, 2013. Mr Kerry will return to Israel and the West Bank this week just days after his last visit, a US official said on Monday, Dec 9, 2013, denying he was only focused on an interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Secretary of State John Kerry will return to Israel and the West Bank this week just days after his last visit, a US official said on Monday Dec 9, 2013, denying he was only focused on an interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Amid intense diplomatic activity, Mr Kerry will leave again for Israel on Wednesday, five days after he landed back from Jerusalem and after spending most of the weekend meeting in Washington with Israeli leaders.

"This is an important time in the negotiations, and he felt it was important to return to the region," State Department spokesman Jen Psaki told reporters, adding Mr Kerry would spend two days in Israel and Ramallah for talks.

But she denied reports that Mr Kerry and the administration of President Barack Obama were seeking some kind of interim framework ahead of a full accord.

"Just to be absolutely clear, we are not focused on an interim deal, we are focused on a final deal," Ms Psaki told reporters, while adding "there of course will be a process to getting there." All sides remained "committed to a nine-month timeframe" set out earlier this year when Mr Kerry succeeded in bringing the two sides back to the negotiating table after a three-year stalemate.

Mr Kerry will leave on Wednesday for his ninth overnight stay in Israel since he became secretary of state in February, on a trip which will also take him to Vietnam and the Philippines.

Ms Psaki refused however to lay out "all the steps that could be possible to get to a final status agreement, and I'm not going to lay out what the options are." Mr Obama and Mr Kerry both addressed the Saban Forum organised by the Brookings Institution over the weekend in Washington which gathered some of Israel's top leaders.

"It is essential, in my judgment, to reach for a full agreement and to have a framework within which we can try to work for that," Mr Kerry told the forum.

Such a "basic framework will have to address all the core issues - borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual recognition, and an end of claims.

"And it will have to establish agreed guidelines for subsequent negotiations that will fill out the details in a full-on peace treaty." Mr Obama also warned the forum that, in the event of a final agreement, the Palestinians would have to accept Israel would need a "transition period" to ensure that the West Bank did not become a security threat akin to Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Bidding to keep the peace process on track, Mr Kerry met in Washington on Monday with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat and his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni.

Over the weekend he also held his first talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, since the latter returned to his post after a corruption scandal.