WASHINGTON — Evoking the US shuttle diplomacy of decades past, Secretary of State John F. Kerry is making his third trip to the Middle East in just two weeks in a fresh bid to restart long-stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Though expectations are low for any breakthrough on Kerry’s trip, which begins Saturday, his meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders represent some of the Obama administration’s most sustained efforts at engagement, a renewed determination in a part of the world that has frustrated American administrations for the past six decades.
‘‘His diplomacy will be based on what he hears from the parties,’’ State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. Kerry, she said, will be making clear that both sides have to want to get back to the negotiating table ‘‘and that they’ve also got to recognize— both parties — that compromises and sacrifices are going to have to be made if we’re going to be able to help.’’
Kerry is going at a precarious time. Overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday, Israel and Gaza militants engaged in the heaviest fighting since a cease-fire was declared in November. The militants fired several rockets into southern Israel, and Israel responded with its first airstrike in Gaza since the fighting subsided. No injuries were reported.
Kerry had planned to leave Monday for talks in London and then South Korea, China, and Japan. But officials said he moved up his departure to Saturday for a stop in Turkey, where he will seek to build on recent efforts by that nation and Israel to repair ties and coordinate on stemming violence in Syria. Kerry then travels to Jerusalem and to Ramallah in the West Bank before returning to Israel.
US officials say Kerry is interested in gauging what the Israelis and the Palestinians are willing to do to restart direct negotiations that have been mostly frozen for 4½ years. He will meet with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Trying to avoid raising expectations unrealistically, Nuland said Kerry’s trip isn’t the start of a new era of shuttle diplomacy, a concept that got its start with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during his travels back-and-forth to end the 1973 Mideast War and secure peace between Israel and some of its neighbors. Similar efforts took place under James A. Baker III, Warren Christopher, and Condoleezza Rice.
But it marks a shift after President Obama largely kept the Arab-Israeli conflict at arm’s length during his first term. Despite publicly challenging Israel to halt settlement construction in disputed territory and becoming the first US president to publicly endorse Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the basis of a two-state solution, Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton presented no grand peace plan and failed to produce any sustained, high-level diplomacy between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The last significant talks occurred when President George W. Bush brought leaders to Maryland with the goal of a treaty by the end of 2008.