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Kerry to return to Palestinian territories, Israel on Jan. 1 to push for peace

Brian Snyder / Reuters file

Secretary of State John Kerry enters the room for a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Dec. 13, 2013.

As his first diplomatic move in the New Year, Secretary of State John Kerry will return to the Palestinian territories and Israel to engage in peace talks, an unnamed U.S. official said Saturday.

The official said Kerry will visit Jerusalem and Ramallah on Jan. 1 for an additional round of shuttle diplomacy with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Kerry is slated to discuss the ongoing final status negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, among other issues, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

The United States is seeking to broker an agreement on a "two-state solution" in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state.

Kerry wants the sides to agree to a framework for an interim accord ahead of a deal in April, which would launch another year of talks aimed at a full-blown peace treaty. A framework would demonstrate that progress is being made in talks that began in July, according to U.S. officials.

A framework would touch on all the main issues, including security, the future of Jerusalem and the fate of refugees. 

The Palestinians see the Jewish settlements as an obstacle to achieving a viable state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Most countries consider Israel's settlements there illegal.

During his last visit to the region on Dec. 13, Kerry said both sides remained committed to peace talks and were on course to wrap up an interim deal in April. 

NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Reuters contributed to this report.