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Kerry meets Israelis, Palestinians in bid to revive talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem May 23, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem May 23, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Arshad Mohammed

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials on Thursday and acknowledged there was considerable skepticism that the two sides would resume peace negotiations.

There were no signs of any breakthrough as Kerry visited Israel for the fourth time in his four months in office to try to revive a peace process that has been moribund for more than two years.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations broke down in late 2010 in a dispute over Israeli construction of Jewish settlements on occupied West Bank land that the Palestinians want as part of their future state.

"I know this region well enough to know that there is skepticism. In some quarters there is cynicism and there are reasons for it. There have been bitter years of disappointment," Kerry said as he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posed for pictures.

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

Kerry met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for lunch in the West Bank city of Ramallah and returned to Jerusalem to see Shimon Peres, who holds Israel's largely ceremonial post of president. He will have breakfast on Friday with Netanyahu.

Before their meeting on Thursday morning, Netanyahu said he wanted to restart peace talks.

"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," Netanyahu said.

The two men discussed ways to advance peace, Kerry's ideas for an economic plan to boost Palestinian growth and the "escalating violence" in neighboring Syria's civil war, a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters after the meeting.

Peres wished Kerry success in his mission but the U.S. top diplomat responded by saying success would be a prize for the adversaries, not his.

"You said that 'if you succeed' or 'if you fail' - I think it's not me, Mr. President. It really is a question of whether Israel and the Palestinians make the choices," Kerry told Peres and added that regional players had reached a "critical moment".

"This moment is a really critical moment for the region and particularly for Israel and for Palestine and for Jordan ... the importance of trying to resolve this in this moment, where there is a willingness for people to look for a way, can't be overstated," Kerry said.

SETTLEMENTS

Last week, Kerry telephoned Netanyahu to voice U.S. concern at Israel's plan to declare legal four unauthorized West Bank settler outposts.

Most of the world deems all Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal. Israel, which captured the land in the 1967 Middle East War, disputes this. There are about 120 government-authorized settlements in the West Bank and dozens of outposts built by settlers without official sanction.

The main issues that would have to be resolved in a peace agreement include the borders between Israel and a Palestinian state, the future of Jewish settlements, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

In his visits to the region, Kerry is also trying to put together an economic package for the Palestinians to go alongside the U.S. political initiative.

European diplomats, in meetings with Palestinian leaders, have been trying to steer them away from any notion the European Union might present a peace plan of its own. British Foreign Secretary of William Hague also held talks with Netanyahu and Abbas on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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