Israeli-Palestinian talks begin amid deep divisions
Washington, July 30, 2013
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held their first peace talks in nearly three years on Monday in a US-brokered effort that Secretary of State John Kerry hopes will end their conflict despite deep divisions.
Top aides to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas began the talks over an iftar dinner hosted by Kerry.
Kerry, who has prodded, coaxed and cajoled the two sides to resume negotiations in a flurry of visits to the Middle East during his less than six months in office, urged Israelis and Palestinians to strike "reasonable compromises."
It was clear, however, from some public statements over the agenda for the talks - which are expected to run for nine months - and comments by Abbas, that there are major disagreements over issues such as borders and security.
Speaking in Cairo on Monday, Abbas struck a hard line, saying that ultimately he did not want a single Israeli citizen or soldier on Palestinian land.
Israel has previously said it wants to maintain a military presence in the occupied West Bank at the border with Jordan to prevent any influx of weapons that could be used against it.
Middle East analysts praised Kerry for persuading the two sides to resume talks but emphasized the difficulties ahead.
"Right now, there's almost no chance of achieving a conflict-ending agreement; yet by pressing the Israelis and Palestinians back toward the table, the United States has assumed responsibility for producing one," Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. peace negotiator, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece.
The US is seeking to broker an agreement on a "two-state solution" in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands occupied by the Israelis since a 1967 war.
The major issues to be resolved in the talks include borders, the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.
The last direct negotiations collapsed in late 2010 over Israel's construction of Jewish settlements on occupied land it seized in the 1967 Middle East war.
Previous attempts to resolve the conflict have sought to tackle easier disputes first and defer the most emotional ones like the fate of Jerusalem and of Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinians, with international backing, want their future state to have borders approximating the boundaries of the West Bank, adjacent East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip before Israel captured them in the 1967 war.
In what it called a goodwill gesture to restart diplomacy, the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday approved the release of 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners in stages. Thousands more Palestinians remain in Israeli jails. – Reuters