JERUSALEM (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, engaged in breakneck shuttle diplomacy to coax Israel and the Palestinians back into peace talks, is flying to the West Bank on Sunday to have a third meeting in as many days with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
U.S., Israeli and Palestinian officials have declined to disclose details of the past three days of closed-door meetings, but Kerry's decision to fly from Jerusalem to Ramallah, West Bank, to see Abbas again before he leaves the region was an indication that the secretary believes there is a chance of bringing the two sides together.
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 persuaded to at least restart talks, which broke down in 2008.
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.
So far, there have been no public signs that the two sides are narrowing their differences.
Azzam al-Ahmad, an official with Abbas' Fatah movement who met with the Palestinian president Saturday night, was not optimistic.
He told the Voice of Palestine Sunday morning that no progress had been made in Kerry's efforts concerning the Palestinians demand that Israel freeze settlements in occupied areas, recognize the 1967 borders and release prisoners.
"Kerry is doing his best and we appreciate these efforts, but so far he didn't bring anything from the Israelis on our demands of the settlements freeze, recognizing the '67 borders and releasing the pre-Oslo prisoners," he said. He was referring to prisoners held since before the so-called Oslo Accords of the early 1990s, a peace effort that established the Palestinian Authority.
"President Abbas told Kerry he wants him to continue his efforts but we can't wait forever," al-Ahmad said.
Kerry has only uttered two words about his talks. "Working hard" is all Kerry would say when a reporter asked him at a photo-op whether progress was being made.
Despite the lack of readouts, there are several clues that the meetings have been more than routine chats.
Most of Kerry's meetings have lasted at least two hours and several of them were much longer. His initial dinner meeting Thursday night with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was clocked at four, and the one Saturday night in a hotel suite with the Israeli prime minister and his advisers lasted more than six hours.
After the meeting broke up past 3 a.m., Kerry took a pre-dawn stroll in Jerusalem with senior advisers. Kerry, the sleeves on his white shirt rolled up his arms, walked with a security escort to a park near the hotel, gesturing and talking with his top advisers on the Mideast peace process.
There were still more hints that Kerry's discussions might be gaining traction.
Legal, military and other officials accompanied Netanyahu at the meeting, perhaps an indication that discussions had reached a more detailed level.
Kerry canceled a visit to Abu Dhabi on his two-week swing through Asia and the Mideast because of his extended discussions on the Mideast peace process in Jerusalem and Amman, Jordan.