PARIS - US Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that Israel and the Palestinians are determined to push forward with peace talks.
“Despite tough decisions that have to be made and despite pressure that exists on both sides... both the Palestinians and Israelis have remained steadfast in their committment to continuing the talks,” Kerry said in Paris after a meeting with Arab League officials.
Ahead of talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in London later Sunday, Kerry also said he planned to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “shortly” to discuss peace efforts.
In regards to the talks with Arab League officials, Kerry said: “We all of us agreed that a final status agreement is important in enhancing regional security and stability throughout the Middle East.”  Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians resumed on July 29, after Kerry shuttled between Jerusalem, the West Bank and Amman for several months seeking to end a three-year stalemate in the negotiations.
The two sides have since met three times in August and in early September in Jerusalem.
In line with Kerry’s desire to keep the details of the negotiations secret in order to give the process a chance to work, little has leaked about the talks.
Ahead of the first bilateral meetings in Jerusalem on August 14, Israel announced plans to build more than 2,000 Jewish settler homes on Palestinian territory, in a move that angered Palestinian negotiators.
Meanwhile, Qatar’s Foreign Minister said on Sunday ongoing construction by Jewish settlers was an obstacle to achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
“There are several obstacles to this process... We are talking about settlements,” Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiya told a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris after meeting with representatives from the Arab Peace Initiative.
The Arab Peace Initiative, put forward by Saudi Arabia at an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002, offered full recognition of Israel but only if it gave up all land seized in the 1967 Middle East war and agreed to a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government on Sunday approved the allocation of 5,000 work permits for Palestinians from the West Bank, enabling them to work in the Jewish state, an official told AFP.
“The initial resolution stated that it was within the framework of the peace negotiations with the Palestinians and efforts to improve the Palestinian economy,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
“But several ministers opposed this phrasing, saying there was no reason to improve the Palestinian economy when the Palestinians don’t miss an opportunity to back boycotts against Israel’s economy,” the official said.
The Israeli decision comes amid recently renewed direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after a three-year stalemate. Last month, Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners in the first batch of some 104 long-term detainees who are to be freed in stages contingent on progress in the negotiations as a confidence-building gesture.
Since the start in 2000 of the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada, Israel has limited the number of permits it grants Palestinians to enter for work, medical treatment or other needs.
In addition to the newly approved 5,000 permits, nearly 70,000 Palestinians have permanent work permits for Israel, according to a defence official.