Kerry is making a major push to secure what the Obama administration called a "framework" accord seen as critical to a wide-ranging Middle East peace accord and critics branded as a bid for more time, the New York Times reported.
Kerry is expected to make several trips to the region in January and February to secure the framework agreement quickly, U.S. officials said. Kerry has targeted the end of April for completing a comprehensive peace accord.
The framework's goal is to achieve enough of a coming together on core issues that the two sides can push toward a formal peace agreement, State Department officials said. The document wouldn't be signed by Israeli and Palestinian leaders and likely would note reservations each side has, American officials said.
"Once they have a shared vision of what that will look like, then it will become easier to finalize the details," a senior State Department official told the Times.
Among the core issues to be resolved are the borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem as a possible capital for the new Palestinian state as well as Israel, recognition that Israel be identified as a Jewish state and a Palestinian demand that refugees have the right to return to their former homes, the Times said.
Critics said the move was an effort to buy time and formally establish the negotiating process that could go past the timeline Kerry set during the summer for completing a peace treaty.
"It is clear that Kerry cannot get a comprehensive 'final status agreement' in his nine-month timetable, so now he appears to be looking at a 'framework agreement' instead," said Elliott Abrams, a senior official on President George W. Bush's National Security Council. "I don't think it will work."