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Nearly 20 years after the Israelis and Palestinians formally began their peace process through the Oslo Accords, there is deep skepticism on both sides that peace is possible.
Among the issues to be settled in any agreement to end the more than six-decade conflict are borders, the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.
Palestinian officials have said Kerry has given them until June 7 to let the United States know whether they are serious about the possibility of reviving peace talks.
While Kerry has not explicitly confirmed the deadline - and it could be extended - on May 24 he said “we’re getting towards a time now where hard decisions need to be made.”
Even before taking office, Kerry made no secret of his desire to try to solve the conflict. But he has acknowledged the deep skepticism, saying a week ago that “it is famously reputed to be diplomatic quicksand.”
Having spent most of his career in the U.S. Senate, where personal relationships are vital to getting things done, Kerry believes in the virtue of face-to-face diplomacy and has used his facility with languages to slip into French, German, Italian and even, occasionally, a word of Arabic to charm audiences.
He also makes a point of visiting cultural icons when abroad, laying a wreath at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, touring Tokyo’s Zojo-ji Temple and paying his respects at Ataturk’s Tomb in Ankara.
However, he has been subjected to some withering criticism.
“Despite his good intentions, Kerry so far looks like a naive and ham-handed diplomat who has been acting like a bull in the china shop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” wrote Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.
For all Kerry’s efforts, questions linger about whether U.S. President Barack Obama has any real willingness to try a second time on Middle East peace, having promised to make it a priority at the start of his first term but failing to make any progress.