AMMAN, Jordan - Secretary of State John Kerry plunged back into the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Thursday, using Jordan as a base for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
It is Kerry's fifth visit to the region to try to restart peace talks that broke down in 2008.
He left Amman on Thursday evening in a convoy of nearly a dozen vehicles for the 90-minute drive to Jerusalem to dine with Netanyahu. A Jordanian military helicopter flew over his convoy during the trip. He is to have lunch with Abbas today in Amman, and more meetings could be in the offing.
U.S. State Department officials say that while there are no plans for any three-way discussion during Kerry's trip, they are confident both sides are open to negotiations, or at least sitting down at the same table.
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 or a two-state solution. But at the same time, the secretary, who has long-time relationships with officials from both sides, will remind them 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."
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 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 preconditions, though his predecessor conducted talks on the basis of the pre-1967 lines and the international community views the settlements as illegal or illegitimate.