Israel and the western-backed Palestinian Authority will seek to reach a peace agreement within nine months and negotiators will meet again within two weeks after holding a “positive” first round of talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday.
Senior aides to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held their first talks this week since 2010, but focused largely on the framework for negotiations rather than the substance of their dispute.
Speaking after the meetings, which included a session with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as well as direct talks between the two sides without US officials present, Kerry said he believed peace was possible despite the obstacles.
“I know the path is difficult. There is no shortage of passionate skeptics. But with capable, respected negotiators … I am convinced that we can get there,” he said, flanked by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Livni, who served as a cabinet member when Israel launched the 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, said that the negotiations are not intended to “argue about the past, but to create solutions and make decisions for the future.”
The bloody 22-day assault on Gaza killed about 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians.
Erakat said: “No one benefits more from the success of this endeavor than Palestinians.”
Kerry has urged Israelis and Palestinians to strike “reasonable compromises.”
The United States 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 so-called “final status issues” include such emotive and difficult problems as the right of return for Palestinian refugees, ejected from their lands with the 1948 creation of Israel; the exact borders of a Palestinian state, complicated by the mushrooming of illegal Jewish settlements across the occupied West Bank; and the fate of the holy city of Jerusalem claimed by both sides as a future capital.
(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)