Kerry Makes Fifth Trip to Middle East in Bid to Restart Talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, in Jerusalem on Thursday, June 27, 2013. Kerry is in Israel for the fifth time to make further efforts to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, in Jerusalem on Thursday, June 27, 2013. Kerry is in Israel for the fifth time to make further efforts to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Amman, Jordan — Secretary of State John Kerry plunged back into the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict yesterday, using Jordan as a base for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In his fifth visit to the region to try to restart peace talks, Kerry held a four-hour dinner meeting with Netanyahu that stretched into this morning. He was to have lunch with Abbas today in Amman, and more meetings could be in the offing.

Kerry left Amman last night in a convoy of nearly a dozen vehicles for the roughly 90-minute drive to Jerusalem. A Jordanian military helicopter flew over his convoy during the trip, according to a reporter who was allowed to make the trip with Kerry and his delegation.

Netanyahu was about an hour late, apparently telling Kerry that he was delayed because he had been attending a graduation ceremony for Israeli military pilots. They started talking around 9:30 p.m. local time in a suite at a hotel in Jerusalem and ended their discussion around 1:30 a.m. today.

There were no immediate readouts of the discussion from Israeli or U.S. officials.

U.S. State Department officials say that while there are no scheduled plans for any three-way discussion during Kerry’s trip, they are confident that both sides are open to negotiations, or at least sitting down together at the same table to restart talks that broke down in 2008.

Kerry, they say, will continue to try to find common ground between the two sides that would lead to a re-launching of peace talks. On this trip, Kerry is trying to pin down precisely what conditions Abbas and Netanyahu have for restarting talks and perhaps discuss confidence-building measures.

Beyond that, Kerry wants to talk about the positive outcomes, such as enhanced economic growth, of a two-state solution. But at the same time, the secretary, who has long-time relationships with officials from both sides, will remind them of what’s at stake if the conflict is left unresolved, they said.

Earlier this month, in a speech to the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Washington, Kerry warned of serious consequences if no deal is reached.

“Think about what could happen next door,” he told the Jewish audience. “ The Palestinian Authority has committed itself to a policy of nonviolence. ... Up until recently, not one Israeli died from anything that happened from the West Bank until there was a settler killed about a month ago.

“But if that experiment is allowed to fail, ask yourselves: What will replace it? What will happen if the Palestinian economy implodes, if the Palestinian Security Forces dissolve, if the Palestinian Authority fails? ... The failure of the moderate Palestinian leadership could very well invite the rise of the very thing that we want to avoid: the same extremism in the West Bank that we have seen in Gaza or from southern Lebanon.”

So far, there have been no public signals that the two sides are narrowing their differences.