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Kerry bounces between Israel, Palestine, pushing for peace at breakneck pace

Secretary of State John Kerry is practicing shuttle diplomacy, traveled back and forth between Israel and Palestine and holding hours-long meetings with leaders in the hopes of restarting talks.

By Deb RiechmannAssociated Press / June 29, 2013

US Secretary of State John Kerry, (l.), is greeted by Saeb Erekat, Palestinian chief negotiator, as Kerry arrives for his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, for their second meeting in Amman, Jordan, on Saturday. Kerry continuing his rushed round of shuttle diplomacy to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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Jerusalem

US Secretary of State John Kerry kept up his frenetic Mideast diplomacy Saturday, shuttling again between Palestinian and Israeli leaders in hopes of restarting peace talks.

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Kerry met for two hours with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, Jordan in what was their second set of discussions in two days.

He planned more talks in the evening with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem after the two held two meetings over the past two days.

US, Israeli, and Palestinian officials have declined to disclose details of the talks.

"Working hard," is all Kerry would say when a reporter asked him before the latest Abbas meeting whether he was making progress.

Kerry, who is on a two-week swing through the Mideast and Asia, has conducted the meetings at a breakneck pace. He even cancelled a stop in Abu Dhabi because of extended discussions on the Mideast peace process.

He had a four-hour dinner meeting with Netanyahu Thursday night in Jerusalem followed by a more than two-hour lunch with Abbas on Friday in Amman at the home of the Palestinian ambassador to Jordan. Then it was back to Jerusalem for another meeting with Netanyahu and dinner with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

On Saturday morning, he boarded a helicopter to fly back to Amman to meet again with Abbas, this time at the Palestinian president's residence there.

Later Saturday, he was to return to Jerusalem to meet with Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, and Isaac Molho, a Netanyahu envoy.

Kerry is scheduled to leave Jerusalem on Sunday to head to Brunei for a Southeast Asia security conference.

There is deep skepticism that Kerry can get the two sides to agree on a two-state solution, something that has eluded presidents and diplomats for years. But the flurry of meetings has heightened expectations that the two sides can be convinced to at least restart talks, which broke down in 2008.

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

In the past, Abbas has said he won't negotiate unless Israel stops building settlements on war-won lands or accepts its 1967 lines — before the capture of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in a Mideast war that year — as a starting point for border talks. The Palestinians claim all three areas for their future state.

Netanyahu has rejected the Palestinian demands, saying there should be no pre-conditions for talks.

Abbas made significant progress with Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, in talks in 2007 and 2008, but believes there is little point in negotiating with the current Israeli leader.

Netanyahu has adopted much tougher starting positions than Olmert, refusing to recognize Israel's pre-1967 frontier as a baseline for border talks and saying east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital, is off the table. Abbas and his aides suspect Netanyahu wants to resume talks for the sake of negotiating and creating a diplomatic shield for Israel, not in order to reach an agreement.

Abbas has much to lose domestically if he drops his demands that Netanyahu either freeze settlement building or recognize the 1967 frontier as a starting point before talks can resume. Netanyahu has rejected both demands. A majority of Palestinians, disappointed after 20 years of fruitless negotiations with Israel, opposes a return to talks on Netanyahu's terms.

Associated Press writer Karin Laub in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

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