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Kerry in Middle East says Israelis, Palestinians work with 'great intensity' toward peace

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Jan. 4, 2014: Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat at the Palestinian in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP)

Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are working with "great intensity” toward resolving their differences and reaching a peace agreement, though no deadline appears imminent in the decades-long effort.

Kerry traveled to Israel earlier this week in his continuing effort to help broker a peace pact that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

"We're not there yet, but we are making progress," he said after meeting a second time with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "We are beginning to flush out the toughest hurdles yet to be overcome."

This is Kerry’s tenth trip to Israel since he became secretary of state in February 2013. He is now headed back to Jerusalem for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kerry is brokering an intense phase of negotiations aimed at getting the two sides to agree on a framework to guide talks for a final settlement in the intractable dispute.

However, reaching a deal on that framework does not seem likely on this trip.

Kerry cited difficult complications and enduring mistrust that have built up over the years. All of that, Kerry said, has to be "worked through and undone and a pathway has to be laid down in which the parties can have confidence that they know what is happening and that the road ahead is real, not illusory."

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said after the Kerry-Abbas discussions that "failure, to us, is not an option."

He urged Israel to refrain from taking any steps that would pre-empt or prevent negotiations on a final agreement, such as new Israeli settlements or the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Ahead of Kerry's arrival in the region this week, Israel had said it would announce plans to build 1,400 new Jewish settlement homes. But Israel backed off making the announcement, at least while Kerry was around.

Erekat said Kerry was doing everything possible to reach a solution that met Palestinians' demands for a state in lands that Israel captured in 1967.

On Sunday, Kerry is scheduled to go to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Nasser Judah, then to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah to brief them on the talks and the expectations for the days ahead.

He is scheduled to close his Middle East trip with a meeting with the leaders of the Arab League to discuss their initiative to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.