JERUSALEM -- Injecting a sense of urgency into his mission to revive the moribund peace process, Secretary of State John Kerry held a round of meetings Thursday with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
"I am convinced, with great humility, that this moment is a critical one for the region and particularly for Israel, for Palestine and for Jordan," Mr. Kerry said before meeting with President Shimon Peres of Israel.
Mr. Kerry has said that the next 18 to 24 months is a crucial period for achieving a breakthrough in the Middle East peace process and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. And there may not even be that much time.
Palestinian officials say they have, at Mr. Kerry's request, held off on seeking membership in the International Criminal Court and other international agencies that would underscore their claim to statehood. But the Palestinians have said that June 7 is their deadline for showing progress. Some Israeli officials have conveyed a similar sense of urgency.
"The next days and weeks are critical, and it's important everyone stays focused," Tzipi Livni, Israel's minister of justice and the government's chief negotiator on the Palestinian issue, said in a statement after meeting with Mr. Kerry.
Still, there appear to be numerous officials on either side who are not convinced that the time is ripe for tackling the tough issues. In an interview on Israel Radio, Ms. Livni acknowledged that there were differences within the Israeli government, though she insisted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a full partner in Mr. Kerry's effort.
Mr. Kerry, for his part, seemed concerned with countering those on either side who doubt the prospects of success.
"I know this region well enough to know that there is skepticism; in some corridors, there's cynicism," Mr. Kerry said before meeting with Mr. Netanyahu. "And there are reasons for it. There have been bitter years of disappointment."
"Our hope is that the leaders in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority will find the way to compromise and to achieve both of their goals," Mr. Kerry added.
Mr. Kerry later traveled to Ramallah, in the West Bank, to meet with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and his aides. Those participating in the meetings have been sworn to discretion, creating a rare silence on both sides over an issue that is usually played out in shrill tones. Analysts said the secrecy could be a sign of seriousness, or of fear of being blamed for any leaks or failure.
Even the minimalist Israeli and Palestinian public statements, however, hinted at continuing mutual suspicion.
Before meeting with Mr. Kerry, Mr. Netanyahu said of the attempt to resume talks: "It's something I want. It's something you want. It's something I hope the Palestinians want as well."
Reporting on the meeting between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Abbas, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said that Mr. Abbas had again raised issues like Israel's continued settlement construction, its actions in East Jerusalem, settler violence and the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention.
Mr. Kerry will hold another round of meetings on Friday, including a breakfast session with Mr. Netanyahu, before leaving for a meeting of the African Union in Ethiopia.
Given the lack of information about the true content of the talks, the independent Palestinian news agency Maan focused on Mr. Kerry's culinary detour in El Bireh, near Ramallah, where he ate shawarma and Arab sweets at a local restaurant. Displaying all of the skills of the politician he used to be, Mr. Kerry chatted with the owner and chomped on a turkey shawarma sandwich.
"Man, that is good," he said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.