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Kerry Hopes 'Shuttle Diplomacy' Will Spur Mideast Peace Talks


Secretary of State John Kerry left Israel today with plans to return soon. He spent the past couple of days going back and forth between meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials in his bid to restart peace talks. Kerry said he got a lot of constructive suggestions from both sides and that everyone has homework to do. From Jerusalem, NPR's Emily Harris has our story.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Secretary Kerry said his shuttle diplomacy does not only aim to get Israelis and Palestinians in direct peace talks again, but to position both sides now to succeed later.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: We intend to try to create the conditions for peace so that we can resume negotiations between the parties in a clear and precise, predetermined manner.

HARRIS: To create conditions for peace, Kerry said the U.S. has a plan for serious economic investment into the Palestinian areas of the West Bank. More on that in a minute. But the second thing he said, resuming negotiations in a clear and precise, predetermined manner matches what Sabri Saidam says he wants, too. Saidam is an advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He says for peace talks to start, Kerry should come up with a document that states specifically the final goals negotiations would aim to reach and specific steps both sides can take to get there.

SABRI SAIDAM: And once that is signed to, the mere fact that we have a document with commitment, with dates, will build the confidence that the Palestinians see. It's not the issue of prizes here and there. It's not the Father Christmas approach. It is really the implementation approach that needs to be seen by Palestinians.

HARRIS: Working out the end vision before sitting down for direct talks may sound like putting the cart before the horse, but Saidam says Palestinians need a clear basis for action, not symbolic gestures or statements of intent. Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu several times during this trip. Before heading into their final meeting, the Israeli prime minister said he's taking the U.S. effort seriously.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I'm determined not only to resume the peace process with the Palestinians but to make a serious effort to end this conflict once and for all.

HARRIS: Kerry said he and Netanyahu talked, among other things, about ways to reduce bottlenecks and barriers to economic development in Palestinian areas of the West Bank. Kerry promised the full energy of the Obama administration to this effort, saying it would improve security for Israel and create a climate of confidence to move forward. Editor of The Times of Israel newspaper, David Horovitz, is skeptical.

DAVID HOROVITZ: In a climate of goodwill, it would seem to me that everything is surmountable. The settlement issue is surmountable, the refuge is, if both sides want to achieve an accord. But we're not in anything like that climate, and we're so far from that climate, not only because of the mistrust between the leaderships and the positions that they hold, but also because the Middle East is in absolute disarray.

HARRIS: He points to Syria, Egypt and, among Palestinians, the split between the Hamas and Fatah political factions. Secretary Kerry said he will be meeting with a delegation from the Arab League in Washington soon. He expects to discuss a proposal known as the Arab Peace Initiative that the League may revive as a basis for a peace plan.

KERRY: What is important about it is that it suggests in its own language a way forward for the Arab world to make peace with Israel.

HARRIS: Kerry plans to return here frequently in the coming months. Sabri Saidam, the advisor to Palestinian Authority President Abbas, says Kerry has some time to show progress.

SAIDAM: That shuttle diplomacy is creating some sort of confidence, but not for a long period of time.

HARRIS: The Palestinian advisor says he is looking for an agreement that will bring both parties to the negotiating table by around the end of May. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.