01:51 - Source: CNN
Violence in the Mideast

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The bid will occur Sunday at a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Rome

U.S. officials are downplaying the chances the meeting could lead to any breakthroughs

Washington CNN —  

With the clock running out on his time in office and violence between Israelis and Palestinians dimming the prospects of a Mideast peace deal, Secretary of State John Kerry will try this weekend to salvage one of his most important key foreign policy initiatives as international pressure mounts for a resumption of talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

The bid, which will occur at a meeting Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome, comes after Kerry’s efforts to forge a peace deal have repeatedly been thwarted and President Barack Obama himself has suggested a resolution to the conflict isn’t possible by the end of his term.

“The secretary is going to explore whether he can move Netanyahu to yes on negotiations over a two-state solution,” one senior State Department official said. “We don’t know if we are going to get there.”

But even as Kerry embarks on the effort, officials significantly downplayed the chances that it would lead to any breakthroughs.

Kerry is expected to discuss several overlapping international peace initiatives and discuss some of his own ideas to Netanyahu about how peace talks could be restarted, several U.S. officials and diplomats told CNN. The sources said Kerry hopes to get a better sense of Netanyahu’s seriousness about restarting peace talks.

“He will not be trying to restart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians or offering any new initiatives,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said Friday, adding that Kerry and Netanyahu would also be discussing “regional issues” such as Syria and the fight against ISIS.

“Obviously, as a part of this broader discussion that the secretary will be having with the Prime Minister, they’ll talk about where things stand with respect to movement to or away from a two-state solution,” Kirby said.

The effort to try and salvage the peace process comes as the administration debates whether to lay out its own blueprint for a two-state arrangement before Obama leaves office should none of these initiatives pan out.

RELATED: John Kerry to head to Middle East amid Israeli-Palestinian violence

Kerry is planning his overture Sunday despite signs the Israelis and Palestinians are farther apart than ever. Tensions have been steadily increasing since 2014, when talks led by Kerry broke down over land swaps and prisoner exchanges. A deadly wave of violence erupted last October, characterized largely by Palestinian lone-wolf attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians.

On Wednesday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin warned in a speech to the European Parliament that any peace deal was currently impossible because of divisions between the Palestinian Authority, which administers to Palestinians in the West Bank, and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, as well as regional turmoil and a lack of trust between the two parties.

Despite Rivlin’s assessment, U.S. and diplomatic sources told CNN that Kerry is particularly interested in a regional peace track proposed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in which Egypt would facilitate direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians as well as between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Egypt, one of few Arab countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel, is a close ally of the Palestinians and enjoys good relations with Arab states which will be needed to make any potential concessions to Israel to reach a peace deal. Israelis and Palestinians have both been speaking to Sisi’s government about playing a role in talks.

“What (Kerry) is clearly interested in exploring and what he wants to hear from Netanyahu is whether there is anything real there,” one senior U.S. official familiar with Kerry’s efforts said of Israel’s show of interest in Egypt mediation.

RELATED: Kerry chastises Israeli and Palestinian leaders

“He is going to tell him that if there are real things happening on the regional front where Israelis and Arabs are going to meet, we would all be supportive of that,” the official explained.

“If it is just talk that is understood to be a way of fending off other international initiatives, we aren’t interested,” the official continued. “The problem is, we all want to see it happen, but we have very low confidence there is very little trust that the parties will sit down together.”

A senior Egyptian official said the effort is being closely coordinated with Kerry and his peace team. Cairo wants to build upon the areas of agreement already reached between Israelis and Palestinians during the Kerry-led talks in 2013-2014 and extensive security discussions between the two sides, the official said.

“It’s based on the premise that both sides have had extensive discussions, have discussed various parameters and know what is needed for an agreement,” the Egyptian official said. “We’ve always said that direct talks have always been the best way for an end of the conflict based on the principle of a two-state solution. If both sides were ready to engage on that issue, we are ready to facilitate.”

“But we need political will,” he added. “It’s a matter of both sides defining what their needs and expectations are.”

The Egyptians also want to revive the 2003 Arab Peace Initiative originally put forward by Saudi Arabia, in which Arab states could make some gestures to Israel in order to secure better conditions for the Palestinians.

The Egyptian official said Netanyahu has shown a “sense of receptivity” to such a process led by Israel’s Arab neighbors.

Israeli officials declined to comment.

Kerry’s diplomatic efforts to restart peace talks are taking place amid other international initiates to push the parties back to the negotiating table.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, France convened world powers earlier this month in Paris and plans to hold a follow up peace summit later this year. The French delayed the date to accommodate Kerry’s schedule, but the U.S. hasn’t shown great enthusiasm for the intiative, which so far has not included the Israelis or Palestinians.

RELATED: France delays Mideast peace conference for U.S.

Israel has already rejected the French proposal, which Rivlin said Wednesday amounted to “negotiations for negotiations’ sake” that would deepen divisions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other officials, however, have come out strongly in favor of the French initiative.

The Palestinian representative to the United States, Maen Areikat, said the Palestinians “believe strongly that the U.S. should put itself behind any international peace effort to end the conflict.”

But he also said that the Palestinians don’t put much stock in Kerry’s latest diplomatic efforts and believe Netanyahu does not want to negotiate.

“This Israeli government has no intention of negotiating. They’re buying time and maneuvering, trying to deflect and distract from international efforts, while continuing its efforts to kill a two-state solution,” Aerikat told CNN. “What is needed are real, concrete steps to end the occupation.”

The Mideast Quartet – an international body comprising the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia – is also in the final stages of its own assessment of the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

U.S. officials and diplomats familiar with the report said it is expected to offer a dire assessment of the fleeting chances for a two-state solution and offer criticism of Israeli settlement activity and the treatment of Palestinians, as well as Palestinian incitement. But it’s unclear if the group will offer recommendations on how to proceed.

The U.S. administration is also debating whether to put forward its own framework for a two-state arrangement before Obama’s term runs out at the end of the year.

Such a move could include a speech by Kerry or the President – potentially at the United Nations General Assembly in September – or a UN Security Council resolution laying out parameters for a deal and calling on both sides to compromise on key issues.

While the White House has not made a decision on whether to seek action at the UN, officials acknowledge such a move would likely deepen tensions with Israel, which has staunchly opposed UN action.

While Washington traditionally stands by Israel at the Security Council, the Obama administration threatened to support a resolution of the kind it’s now considering after Netanyahu said during his bid for reelection that he would not support a two-state solution.

OPINION: Don’t give up on the two-state solution

The White House later backed down after the Israeli leader softened his comments.

Supporting a resolution now has pros and cons. Israel argues a UN debate would only galvanize international sentiment against it, making concessions to the Palestinians all the more difficult while Palestinians dig in their heels, thinking that the world is with them.

But some U.S. officials see the international backing for a two-state solution provided by a Security Council resolution as handing the next U.S. president a blueprint from which to restart Mideast peace efforts.

“If we are going to take the step of laying out our own parameters, there will be a sense of coming to that decision with our hands clean,” one senior US official said, saying that the onus was on Netanyahu to show he was committed to a two state solution.

“When you have an Israeli government that is going further to the right, and if Kerry has gone back to Netanyahu and made an effort to move some of these proposals forward and finds by September that it isn’t real,” the official explained, “we can come with a clean conscience that we did everything we could to prove there is a better alternative.”