RAMALLAH, West Bank Palestinians put off a decision on Thursday on whether to resume peace talks, with a senior official saying Israel needed to meet their terms before negotiations could resume.
The Palestinian stance suggested that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's sixth peacemaking visit to the region since March was likely to end inconclusively on Friday, when an aide said he would fly home after talking to both sides once more.
In Washington, President Barack Obama telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge him to keep working with Kerry "to resume negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible," the White House said.
Obama's phone call to Netanyahu, during which they also discussed security issues in Egypt, Syria and Iran, appeared to signal the White House was putting some of its muscle behind Kerry's push to resume peace talks that broke down in 2010.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and fellow Palestine Liberation Organisation leaders discussed the issues in Ramallah and it became clear after two lengthy meetings that the Palestinians did not feel able to resume talks for now but were open to further discussions with Kerry.
"(Palestinian chief negotiator) Saeb Erekat will meet Mr. Kerry in Amman on Friday and he will tell him the return to negotiations should be based on the two-state solution and the 1967 borders and that Israel should accept and recognise that," said a senior Palestinian official close to the debate.
"Saeb will also say the Palestinian leadership sought more clarifications on Kerry's proposal in relation to the issues of prisoners and settlements," he added, referring to the Palestinians' desire for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners and to stop building Jewish settlements on occupied land.
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Negotiations, which have ebbed and flowed over two decades, last broke down in 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement building on occupied land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem that it seized during the 1967 war.
The Palestinians want that land for an independent state and have demanded a halt to all settlement building before they are willing to resume talks, although there are signs they may be becoming resigned to softening that position.
Netanyahu, whose rightist coalition government includes parties that back Jewish settlers on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, says he wants to start peace talks immediately, but without preconditions.
Kerry has given no details on where he believes the two sides might give ground, although after talks with Abbas in Jordan on Wednesday, he said the gaps had narrowed "very significantly".
The State Department on Thursday played down reports that an agreement was at hand, saying there were currently no plans to announce a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks.
A senior State Department official said Kerry would consult both sides again on Friday - it was not clear whether that would be in person or on the telephone - before going home.
"It is appropriate and encouraging that there is such a serious debate about these issues," the senior U.S. official said in a brief emailed comment as the Palestinian discussions continued. "We understand that there are many strongly held views and appreciate efforts to find a basis to move forward."
ARAB LEAGUE ENDORSEMENT
Kerry has not spelled out his proposals. But his efforts won the notable endorsement of the Arab League, which said they "provide the ground and a suitable environment to start negotiations".
Kerry has highlighted a 2002 offer by the 22-nation Arab League to make peace with Israel in return for a Palestinian state broadly inside borders that existed before Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in 1967.
Abbas, whose peace strategy is opposed by the Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has sought Arab League support in the past to engage Israel. It was not clear if Wednesday's endorsement gave him enough political cover to resume talks.
Hamas' leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, called Kerry's efforts "a waste of time".
Palestinians familiar with Abbas' thinking speculated he might now forgo the call for a settlement moratorium given a recent slowdown in housing starts issued by Israel's government, although it may be painful to roll back his previous demand.
The core issues that need to be settled in the more than six-decade-old dispute include borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees, the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Amman, Noah Browning in Cairo, Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Writing by Arshad Mohammed, Ari Rabinovitch and Dan Williams; Editing by David Stamp and Peter Cooney)
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