Palestinian leader optimistic about Kerry efforts

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Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, left, waves as he walks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a welcome ceremony in the West Bank city of Ramallah Tuesday, July 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinian president said Tuesday he is optimistic that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will succeed in restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, a rare upbeat assessment about American mediation efforts.

Mahmoud Abbas' comments came two days after Kerry ended his latest peace mission to the region without any breakthroughs. While Kerry said he had narrowed the gaps between the sides, the lack of any visible progress has led to pessimism on both sides.

A poll of released Tuesday showed that Israelis and Palestinians have little faith in Kerry's peace efforts, and Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian in a clash in the West Bank, adding to tensions.

At a news conference, Abbas said Kerry presented "useful and constructive suggestions" and promised to return to the region soon. Kerry left aides behind to continue the mediation efforts.

"We are optimistic because he is serious and determined to reach a solution," Abbas said at a joint appearance with visiting Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

The last substantive round of talks broke down in late 2008, shortly before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office.

The Palestinians have demanded that Israel stop building in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem before talks resume. The Palestinians claim both areas, captured by Israel in 1967, as parts of a future state.

They also say that Israel should recognize its pre-1967 lines as the basis for borders with a future Palestine. Netanyahu has rejected both demands, saying all disagreements should be resolved in negotiations.

Kerry's efforts have placed the Palestinians in a delicate position. They do not want to be blamed for any failure. At the same time, if they resume talks on Netanyahu's terms, Abbas would go against Palestinian public opinion.

After 20 years of intermittent talks with Israel, few believe there's a chance to strike a deal with Netanyahu, an ideological hard-liner whose government is dominated by politicians who oppose significant concessions. Several top officials have taken a tougher line than Netanyahu, speaking out against the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, Netanyahu played down these comments, saying he was committed to seeing Kerry succeed and ready to start serious negotiations.

"I said that Secretary Kerry's effort should be supported. If he were to pitch a tent between my office here in Jerusalem and Abu Mazen's office in Ramallah then I would enter that tent immediately and I would stay in it so that we can devote serious effort to try to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians," Netanyahu said, using the Palestinian president's nickname.

"The only way you can get to the end of the negotiations is to begin them, so we should get on with them — begin negotiations," Netanyahu said.

Kerry's talks package is expected to include incentives to both sides, including limits to Israeli settlement construction, guarantees to the Palestinians that border issues will be discussed in a timely manner, security guarantees to Israel, international financial aid to the Palestinians and release of some Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. The Palestinians are demanding the release of more than 100 prisoners convicted before the first interim peace accords in 1993.

Also Tuesday, a joint poll by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, West Bank, showed deep skepticism.

Only 27 percent of the Palestinians and 10 percent of the Israelis polled said they think the two sides will return to negotiations and violence will cease.

Still, a majority on both sides — 62 percent of Israelis and 53 percent of Palestinians — support the two-state solution to the conflict that Kerry is promoting — a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

According to the survey, a majority on each side views the other as "constituting a threat to its very existence."

The survey was conducted shortly before Kerry's visit. It polled 1,270 Palestinians face-to-face in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem with a margin of error of 3 percentage points. Pollsters interviewed 601 Israelis over the phone. The survey had a 4.5 percentage point margin of error.

Hours before the report was released, a Palestinian was killed in a clash with Israeli forces in the West Bank. Kamel Hamid, governor of Hebron district, said the man was shot and then hit by an Israeli jeep after throwing rocks at soldiers in the village of Dura.

The Israeli military said several Palestinians threw rocks early Tuesday, rushed a military vehicle and climbed on top of it.

It said soldiers called on them to get down, and when the Palestinians ignored repeated warnings, troops deployed non-lethal riot control gear, the military said. When that failed to deter them, soldiers opened fire toward one of the Palestinians.