JERUSALEM — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday for the second time in two days, continuing his rushed round of shuttle diplomacy to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kerry is shuttling between meetings in Jerusalem and Amman, Jordan, to find a way to coax both sides back into negotiations to craft a two-state solution to their long-running conflict.
U.S., Israeli and Palestinian officials have all declined to disclose details of the talks. "Working hard," is all Kerry would say when a reporter asked him, during a photo-op before the Abbas meeting, whether progress was being made.
For the past three days, Kerry, who is on a two-week swing through the Mideast and Asia, has been conducting meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials at a frenetic pace. A few days ago, Kerry added a stop in Abu Dhabi to his itinerary, but it was later canceled because of his ongoing discussions on the Mideast peace process.
He had a four-hour dinner meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday night in Jerusalem followed by a more than two-hour lunch with Abbas on Friday in Amman at the home of the Palestinian ambassador to Jordan. Then it was back to Jerusalem for another meeting with Netanyahu and dinner with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
On Saturday morning, he boarded a helicopter to fly back to Amman to meet again with Abbas, this time at the Palestinian president's residence there. Later Saturday, he was to return to Jerusalem to meet with Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, and Isaac Molho, a Netanyahu envoy.
Kerry is scheduled to leave Jerusalem on Sunday to head to Brunei for a Southeast Asia security conference.
There is deep skepticism that Kerry can get the two sides to agree on a two-state solution, something that has eluded presidents and diplomats for years. But the flurry of meetings has heightened expectations that the two sides can be convinced to at least restart talks, which broke down in 2008.
So far, there have been no public signs that the two sides are narrowing their differences.
In the past, Abbas has said he won't negotiate unless Israel stops building settlements on war-won lands or accepts its 1967 lines — before the capture of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in a Mideast war that year — as a starting point for border talks. The Palestinians claim all three areas for their future state.
Netanyahu has rejected the Palestinian demands, saying there should be no pre-conditions for talks.
Abbas made significant progress with Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, in talks in 2007 and 2008, but believes there is little point in negotiating with the current Israeli leader.
Netanyahu has adopted much tougher starting positions than Olmert, refusing to recognize Israel's pre-1967 frontier as a baseline for border talks and saying east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital, is off the table. Abbas and his aides suspect Netanyahu wants to resume talks for the sake of negotiating and creating a diplomatic shield for Israel, not in order to reach an agreement.
Abbas, in turn, has much to lose domestically if he drops his demands that Netanyahu either freeze settlement building or recognize the 1967 frontier as a starting point before talks can resume. Netanyahu has rejected both demands. A majority of Palestinians, disappointed after 20 years of fruitless negotiations with Israel, opposes a return to talks on Netanyahu's terms.
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