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Kerry shifts to 'quiet strategy' to revive peace talks

| Monday, April 8, 2013, 8:54 p.m.

JERUSALEM — Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that the “festering absence of peace” between Israelis and Palestinians only fuels extremism and that the time is right for renewed efforts toward resolving the decades-old conflict.

Kerry, speaking to a small group of reporters during his third trip to the region in a month, said he was embarking on a “quiet strategy” to wade through the deep reservoirs of mistrust on both sides in hopes of restarting serious negotiations. However, he emphasized that he's fully aware of the difficulties of reaching an enduring Israeli-Palestinian resolution and said he refused to be pinned down by guidelines or timetables.

“I understand it is a complicated, well-trod path of disappointments and/or moments of hope followed by breach of agreement or process,” Kerry said. “And that mistrust is very high, and that one of the reasons for these early interventions is to get right at the issue of mistrust.”

While the State Department plays down talk of a new shuttle diplomacy, it's clear that a Middle East peace deal is inching its way up the Obama administration's foreign policy agenda. The Obama administration was thrilled with its tentative success in thawing the icy relations between ironclad ally Israel and Turkey, a rising regional player that aspires to a leading role in the peace process.

And the fact that Kerry is back for a third time, not quite a month after accompanying President Obama to the region, signals that the administration is willing to devote real effort toward getting the parties back to the negotiating table. Both Israeli and Palestinian officials told McClatchy Newspapers last week that Kerry was interested in dusting off a long-ignored Arab initiative — called the Arab Peace Initiative — that would grant Israel full normalization with Arab states across the region in exchange for a final status solution and an independent Palestinian state.

Kerry landed in Jerusalem on Sunday evening and went straight to the Ramallah compound of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas; he saw Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Fayyad. On the Israeli side, Kerry met with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

“My dear friend, there is a new wind of peace blowing through the Middle East,” Peres told Kerry as he greeted him just before their private talk.

“A belief in peace is possible, is needed, is real. And peace is possible,” Peres continued.

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