TEL AVIV -- Secretary of State John Kerry urged Israel's government yesterday to prevent further settlement construction where possible to help revitalize Middle East peace hopes, but stressed that the Jewish state and Palestinians alike should remain focused on the larger goal of restarting direct negotiations.
Explaining part of the strategy of his 2-month-old peace initiative, Kerry said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government can stop only some of the settlements being built in lands contested by the Israelis and Palestinians -- and in those cases it should act.
But unlike in previous American-led mediation efforts, he stopped short of demanding a full settlement freeze and said the contentious issue could better be handled through a quick restart of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The Palestinians have long demanded an end to such construction before returning to talks, which have hardly occurred at all in the past 4 1/2 years.
The United States has supported Netanyahu's demand for negotiations to restart without preconditions -- an endorsement renewed by Kerry after two days of talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah with Israeli and Palestinians leaders.
Kerry said it was important not to let settlements stand in the way of talks that could finally set borders as part of a peace agreement. Then, he said, the issue would be resolved because each side would have clear boundaries for their two states.
"Both sides know what is needed in order to move forward and it's really time for the governments to make their decisions," Kerry said.
Earlier yesterday, Kerry met Netanyahu for the second time in as many days and then spoke with outgoing Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.