WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State John Kerry met with leaders of the American Jewish Committee privately on Thursday night at the White House, making a case for support on his push for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The meeting lasted 90 minutes and was dominated by Kerry, who gave a prepared speech to the group. The secretary’s remarks were followed by a brief statement from National Security Adviser Susan Rice and 12 questions from the small audience.

In a break from public pronouncements, Kerry addressed other regional events and repeatedly told the group that the Muslim Brotherhood was not returning to power in Egypt. He also mentioned that Hezbollah and Iran were distracted with the Syrian conflict.

Kerry told the Jewish leaders that peace was a “strategic imperative” for both Israel and the Palestinians, and argued that the regional strategic environment has become favorable for a peace agreement because opponents of peace have weakened over the past two years.

He also expressed irritation with continued settlement building in the West Bank.

The State Department today acknowledged that Washington had “made its concerns known” to the Israeli government.

Kerry also warned the group of “negative consequences” for Israel if the parties fail to succeed in clinching peace.

But the questions reflected skepticism in the Jewish community toward Kerry’s approach and reflected distrust in the Palestinian leadership.

Several questioners challenged Kerry on whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would take steps to reassure Israel that he is serious about the process.

Asked about whether the Palestinians would ever be prepared to accept Israel as the Jewish state, Kerry declined to comment on details in the negotiating process.

“There was a tremendous level of trust and feeling of partnership in the room,” Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, told The Jerusalem Post. “But Israel is leading the way. The prime minister has had to do some courageous things already.”

Negotiations restarted last month in Washington after Kerry conducted shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Amman for months, sorting out preconditions set forth by the PA.

Talks will continue on Wednesday in Jerusalem, followed by talks in Jericho at a date to be determined by the parties.

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