By Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. government is expected to continue its push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in the coming year, following intense visits by Secretary of State John Kerry in recent months, a leading U.S. Mideast expert said on Friday.
"The U.S. has taken an active role in the last few weeks. That's a sign that this is becoming more serious, but that in and of itself doesn't mean that they will have an agreement, even on a framework," David Pollock, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Xinhua in an interview.
Kerry, who paid a latest visit to the Middle East on Wednesday, expressed Thursday optimism about a possible Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, saying an agreement is not "mission impossible" despite ongoing disagreements on both sides over a number of issues.
"But I think it does mean that the United States is going to make a very serious push to get at least that much accomplished over the next four months," he said.
At the moment, the United States is pushing for a framework agreement rather than a final peace deal, which would enable negotiations to continue toward a more long-term agreement.
"I think there is a serious possibility that could work with the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations," Pollock said. "That would be a significant success for American diplomacy - keeping the two sides at the table after they reach some general agreement on principles."
While the Israeli settlement issue has generated many international headlines, Pollock said it was not the main issue, as most of the new construction was taking place in very small strips of territory.
"The settlement issue, I would argue, is more symbolic than anything else," he said.
Pollock noted that Israel's leadership was divided about a peace agreement, pointing out that some cabinet ministers were interested in reaching an agreement on a framework while others were nervous about the process.
"There's a real division at the highest levels of Israeli government. And the guy who obviously holds the key to tipping the balance in one way or the other is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," he said. "But he is so far not showing which way he will tip the balance."
Still, Netanyahu and others in Israel's top leadership were serious about continuing peace negotiations, even though some ministers were against it, Pollock said.