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In Mideast trip, Kerry is battling skepticism

He hopes to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to peace talks.

JERUSALEM - Working against what Palestinians say is an early June deadline to show progress in a renewed bid for Mideast peace, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that he is trying to overcome understandable skepticism after many previous failed attempts.

Kerry shuttled between Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank on his latest visit to coax Israel and the Palestinians back to peace negotiations after a lull that has spanned most of the last four years.

Palestinian leaders are quietly readying plans to pursue statehood claims, and possibly allegations of human-rights violations by Israel, if Kerry's attempt to restart peace talks drags on.

"In some quarters, there is cynicism," Kerry said before his discussion with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "And there are reasons for it. There have been bitter years of disappointment."

Kerry is trying to get each side to make gestures of good faith to improve the atmosphere for talks. He has said that he will not dictate a settlement plan. But Israeli and Palestinian officials say he has told them that he wants the United States to play a main role in inaugurating fresh negotiations and solving problems once talks begin.

Two months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shelved plans to seek membership in the International Criminal Court and other organizations. That concession came with a pledge to resume those membership efforts if Israel did not reciprocate with good-faith efforts or if talks didn't materialize.

Israel is worried that gaining membership will allow the Palestinians to pursue anti-Israeli policies. It got little support, apart from that of the United States, in opposing a Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition last year. The Obama administration tried unsuccessfully to talk Abbas out of seeking recognition.

Kerry's meeting with Netanyahu began with a bear hug. Opening remarks to reporters ended with Kerry giving Netanyahu a framed picture of the two men dining together. By contrast, Kerry's meeting in Abbas' Ramallah headquarters included no public opening remarks.