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Kerry says Arab plan for peace 'big step'

New York Times

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday embraced a proposal by the Arab League to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians as "a very big step forward," but initial reactions suggested that the new initiative might have difficulty penetrating the years-long impasse. "We're taking more steps," Kerry said Tuesday, a day after a Qatar-led delegation of Arab states presented the initiative to him and Vice President Joe Biden at a meeting near the White House.

Qatar's foreign minister had suggested the revival of the Arab Peace Initiative, introduced in 2002, and for the first time eased its demand that Israel return to its pre-1967 borders. Instead, the minister accepted the possibility of tweaking those borders with a comparable and mutually agreed "minor swap of the land."

The Palestinians' chief negotiator said the Arab League's proposal reflected their own position, but he reiterated long-standing conditions for resuming talks, which Israel has for the past several years rejected.

Veteran analysts of the peace process saw the Arabs' inclusion of land swaps as a significant shift, but the initiative also exposed strains within the new government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who did not address the idea publicly.

New violence: A Palestinian man was killed in an Israeli missile strike in Gaza on Tuesday, hours after an Israeli civilian was stabbed to death by a Palestinian in the West Bank. The two attacks were the first such killings in months.

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