ROME (AP) —
Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday he would depart in two weeks on another trip to the Middle East to push peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Speaking to reporters alongside Israeli peace negotiator Tzipi Livni, Kerry said he'd depart on his fourth trip to the Jewish state as America's top diplomat around May 21 or 22. He will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"We are working through threshold questions," Kerry said, ahead of his private talks with Livni in Rome. "We're doing it with a seriousness of purpose that I think ... has not been present in a while. And we all believe we're working with a short time span."
Kerry said officials must have "some sense of direction as fast as we can."
The former Massachusetts senator, who visited the region twice in March and again last month, has been trying to end a 4 1/2 year stalemate between the parties over issues ranging from Israeli settlement construction in disputed lands to Palestinian efforts to win statehood recognition at international bodies.
During that period, the Israelis and Palestinians have hardly negotiated peace at all.
Before arriving Wednesday in the Italian capital, Kerry spoke by telephone with Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani. who led an Arab delegation to Washington last week to try to aid the peace effort.
Kerry and Livni praised the Arab League delegation's decision last week to accept shifts in Israel's border as part of a long-standing offer of universal recognition for Israel in the Arab world — if Israel withdraws from territory it conquered in the 1967 Mideast war.
Kerry said the Arabs "want to keep the process going" and have asked for more meetings.
"We will have those ongoing meetings, but with a purpose," he said. "We're not going to have meetings for the sake of a meeting."
Livni said peace was in the interests of Israel and the Palestinians. She praised Kerry for "recreating hope" after years of stagnancy.
"Some of us lost hope and this is something we need, not just as a vague idea, but something which is concrete," she told reporters.
Neither Kerry nor Livni addressed reports that Israel has put a hold on new construction of settlements in lands the Palestinians hope to include in their state.
American officials would see such a freeze as a positive step, but they don't want to hype any small steps in light of the Middle East peace process' long history of false starts and collapses.