Kerry's Shuttle Diplomacy Yet to Yield Solid Results

Israelis and Palestinians remain pessimistic as U.S. secretary of state working overtime to bring the sides to the negotiating table.

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After three days of intense shuttle diplomacy, it was still unclear on Sunday whether U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts had created conditions for renewing talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Kerry extended his trip to the region once more -- by a few hours -- on Sunday morning as he continues his efforts to bring the two sides to the table. He was expected leave for Ramallah to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the third time in 72 hours.

Kerry met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and a few of their aides on Saturday. The meeting, which concluded around 3:30 A.M., lasted for around six hours.

Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in late 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

At least one Israeli official expressed optimism about a possible breakthrough. "There is a high probability a four-way summit will take place, perhaps as soon as this week," an Israeli official said Saturday. The official was confirming reports by Jordanian papers the same day that Kerry would announce at the end of his visit a four-way summit in Amman among Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and the United States to restart direct talks.

The Jordanian paper Ad-Dustour reported that Kerry conveyed to Abbas Israel's responses to the Palestinians' demands on Friday. The paper said Israel told Kerry that Palestinian demands, including the release of prisoners held in Israel, would be addressed gradually.

Kerry reportedly told Abbas that the delineation of borders and Israel's security demands would be at the heart of the intensive negotiations.

However, both Jerusalem and Ramallah remained generally pessimistic.

Canceling a scheduled trip to Abu Dhabi, Kerry flew from Jerusalem to Amman for another meeting with Abbas, followed by a third meeting, in Jerusalem, with Netanyahu.

"Because Secretary Kerry's meetings on the peace process remain ongoing in Jerusalem and Amman, we will no longer be able to make a stop in Abu Dhabi," State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said. Kerry had apologized to the United Arab Emirates for his change in plans.

Communications and Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the inner cabinet, said just before the afternoon meeting that according to his information, the parties were nowhere near restarting negotiations. In an interview on Channel 2's "Meet the Press," Erdan said Abbas "is still demanding the same preconditions that we have no intention of complying with."

But a senior Israeli official, speaking earlier on Saturday, confirmed that Kerry was planning to announce a four-way summit aimed at renewing negotiations.

Kerry and his entourage maintained almost total silence during the weekend and asked both sides to avoid holding press conferences regarding the substance of the meetings.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat greeted Kerry on Saturday at Abbas's residence in Amman before the president joined them. Abbas and Kerry had met in Amman less than 24 hours earlier. State Department officials said Abbas and Kerry met privately for about two hours before advisers joined them.

Sense of urgency

It was unclear whether Kerry would be able to announce a resumption of talks before his scheduled departure to kick off an ASEAN Regional Forum in the Brunei Sultanate today. U.S. officials have compared his shuttle diplomacy to Henry Kissinger's Middle East peace efforts in the 1970s.

Kerry - now on his fifth visit as a peace broker - has said he would not have returned to the region so soon if he did not believe he could make progress. He has been guarded about his plans to break the stalemate, while warning time is running out.

He is keen to clinch a deal to resume talks before the United Nations General Assembly, which has already granted de facto recognition to a Palestinian state, convenes in September.

Netanyahu fears the Palestinians, in the absence of direct peace talks, could use the UN session as a springboard for further statehood moves circumventing Israel.

With the Middle East engulfed in turmoil from protests in Egypt to the Syrian civil war, which is spilling into neighboring countries, Kerry has said it is time for "hard decisions" by Israel and the Palestinians.

"It is urgent because time is the enemy of a peace process," he said in Kuwait last week. "The passage of time allows a vacuum to be filled by people who don't want things to happen."

As an incentive for talks, Kerry is also working on a $4 billion economic plan led by ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, which would channel new investments in Palestinian areas via the private sector to boost jobs and economic growth.

A senior Palestinian official privy to the details of Friday's meeting between Abbas and Kerry said he was pessimistic that the secretary of state's visit would bring about a breakthrough in negotiations.

According to the official, during the meeting with Abbas and Erekat, Kerry spoke about formulas, but none of them met the Palestinians' primary demand that talks be based on 1967 borders and the release of prisoners: "Kerry didn't tell us anything new, and I do not know if we will have another meeting this week," Erekat said to his aides after the meeting.

The Palestinians also made clear that they couldn't return to the negotiating table without a clear definition of where talks will lead. "All Netanyahu's rhetoric about two states seems meaningless since he did not mention 1967."

Before leaving today, Kerry is expected to hold a press conference at Ben-Gurion International Airport where he will provide updates on his progress with the two sides. Kerry had planned to hold the conference on Saturday, but postponed it in order to conduct another round of talks with both Abbas and Netanyahu.

Kerry, left, saying goodbye to Abbas after their second meeting in Amman, Jordan, on June 29, 2013.Credit: AP
Livni, left, sitting next to Netanyahu,in meeting with Kerry in Jerusalem, on June 29, 2013. Credit: AP

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