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Kerry Returns to Mideast to Press for Talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is back in the Middle East, trying to get Israeli and Palestinian leaders to return to peace talks on a two-state solution. Talks last collapsed in 2010 over continued Israeli settlement building on land it occupied in 1967.

Kerry returns to the region after talks late last month produced what he called real progress. "With a little more work" he believes the start of final status negotiations on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "could be within reach."

That work is being done with the help of the so-called Middle East Quartet - the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the effort is based on an Arab League peace initiative, including land swaps so Israel can keep some Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Two-state solution

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said, "I see the role of the international community in the context of the Middle Eastern process as a very high one, and I surely hope that the direct negotiations between the sides will resume, but the international atmosphere and background are also very important for us."

Achieving a two-state solution has been a priority for President Barack Obama.

"A second-term president is always bold because the president is then thinking of his legacy. He is now joined by Secretary Kerry, who is a thoughtful man, a man of gravitas, a man who understands the significance of pulling off a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians," said American University professor Akbar Ahmed.

Ahmed said he believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands what is at stake. "The Israelis have to always look at the bigger picture, they have to look at the long term. In the long term it is in their interest, in their national interest to have peace and security in that neighborhood," he said.

Getting talks underway

This latest push for peace comes as the Obama administration works to manage expectations from the so-called Arab Spring, says former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer.

"This is a chronic conflict that has so far defied anyone's ability to resolve it, but it has very much affected U.S. interests. We are part of the problem at least as seen through the lens of the Arab street," said Kurtzer.

If Kerry can get talks started, Kurtzer said that will help broader U.S. foreign policy goals.

"I think it will dissipate some of the anger on the Arab street. And it will give us some breathing room to really do what we need to do on other pressing issues like Egypt and Syria," he said.

Kerry meets Wednesday with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and with Arab League officials for an update on Mideast peace efforts and for talks on the war in Syria.