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In Mideast, Kerry plays down pessimism on peace

Holds another set of meetings with leaders about talks

Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel shared a smile before their meeting in Jerusalem.

URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES

Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel shared a smile before their meeting in Jerusalem.

JERUSALEM — As he embarked on another round of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Thursday in an effort to revitalize the peace process, Secretary of State John F. Kerry acknowledged the doubts being expressed on both sides over his chances of success.

“I know this region well enough to know that there is skepticism; in some corridors, there’s cynicism. And there are reasons for it. There have been bitter years of disappointment,” he said, before meeting here with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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But he added, “It is our hope that by being methodical, careful, patient, but detailed and tenacious, that we can lay out a path ahead that could conceivably surprise people, but certainly exhaust the possibilities of peace.”

Kerry then traveled to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

Kerry greeted restaurant workers in Ramallah after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Fadi Arouri/Associated Press

Kerry greeted restaurant workers in Ramallah after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

They discussed “their shared commitment to the peace effort and the best path moving forward,” according to an official statement. It added that Kerry also updated Abbas on his initiative to strengthen the Palestinian economy.

Palestinian officials have said that they expect Kerry to present a proposal for restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks by early June.

But ahead of Kerry’s visit — his fourth to the area in eight weeks — one Palestinian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in accordance with diplomatic protocol, said there were still no indications that Israel was prepared to meet the requirements that the Palestinians had insisted on to resume the long-stalled negotiations.

“I would prefer to say I am hopeful, even though I have nothing to base that hope on,” the official said. But he added: “We are not in a mood of confrontation. We are fully engaged. Of course we want to negotiate.”

Israeli officials have also been quick to express their support for Kerry’s efforts while indicating that they are not convinced that the Palestinians want to return to the negotiating table.

Before their meeting, Netanyahu said of the attempt to resume peace talks, “It’s something I want. It’s something you want. It’s something I hope the Palestinians want as well. And we ought to be successful for a simple reason: When there’s a will, we’ll find a way.”

Tzipi Livni, Israel’s minister of justice and chief negotiator on the Palestinian issue, said Thursday that Israel had a clear interest in advancing the process. In an interview on Israel Radio, she acknowledged differences within the Israeli government. One coalition member, the right-wing Jewish Home Party, rejects the idea of a Palestinian state. But Livni said Netanyahu was a full partner in Kerry’s effort.

Those close to the talks have maintained strict discretion about the details.

A senior Israeli official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing diplomacy, said Kerry was discussing specific ideas about how to get back to negotiations.

“Are we there yet? I’m afraid not,” the official said, “but we might be very close.”

Kerry is to attend a conference of the World Economic Forum on Sunday in Jordan, where top Israeli and Palestinian business leaders plan to present a statement pressing their governments to quickly return to negotiations toward a two-state solution.

The statement comes after a year of secret meetings led by Yossi Vardi, one of the founding fathers of Israel’s high-tech industry, and Munib Masri, the billionaire chairman of the Palestine Development and Investment Company. Some 300 moguls are expected to sign on.

Vardi and Masri declined to discuss the initiative, called Breaking the Impasse, which has been kept secret largely because of pressure from the Palestinian side, in which any meetings with Israelis are denounced in some circles as normalization.

“I don’t think there’s been a group like this before,” said one person familiar with the initiative, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy surrounding the group. “It’s not made up of your usual peaceniks, and it’s not made up of politicians.”

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