Is­raeli-pales­tinian talks aim at peace deal in 9 months

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGEN­CIES in Wash­ing­ton and Jerusalem

Press­ing ahead in a new US-backed push for Mid­dle East peace, Is­raeli and Pales­tinian ne­go­tia­tors agreed on Tues­day to meet again within two weeks to start sub­stan­tive talks in hopes of reach­ing a long-elu­sive set­tle­ment within nine months.

Speak­ing af­ter the two sides wrapped up an ini­tial two days of talks at the US State Depart­ment and vis­ited Pres­i­dent Barack Obama at the White House, Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry said Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans were com­mit­ted to sus­tained and se­ri­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions on the “core is­sues’’ that di­vide them. The next round will take place in ei­ther Is­rael or the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries be­fore midAu­gust, he said.

Kerry said he was aware of the deep doubts sur­round­ing the new peace ef­fort and ac­knowl­edged that the road would be dif­fi­cult. Yet, he said, “While I un­der­stand the skep­ti­cism, I don’t share it. And I don’t think we have time for it.”

All is­sues, in­clud­ing con­tentious dis­putes over the sta­tus of the ter­ri­to­ries and Jerusalem, are “on the ta­ble for ne­go­ti­a­tion, and they are on the ta­ble with one sim­ple goal: a view to end­ing the con­flict,” Kerry said.

Is­raeli ne­go­tia­tor Tzipi Livni said she was “en­cour­aged” by the first round of di­rect peace talks with the Pales­tini­ans.

“I am en­cour­aged ... com­ing out of the first meet­ing,” she said in an in­ter­view broad­cast early on Wed­nes­day by Is­raeli army ra­dio. “It was an event in which there was a kind of ex­cite­ment and also hope.”

The US had al­ready said the ne­go­ti­a­tions would con­tinue for at least nine months — roughly un­til the end of April 2014 — but that had not been set as a time­frame for reach­ing a deal. Kerry and both sides agreed that nei­ther would walk away from the talks or take ac­tions that could dis­rupt them for that pe­riod, two se­nior US of­fi­cials said. The of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they weren’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss diplo­matic talks.

How­ever, the of­fi­cials also said they ex­pect that the Is­raelis, over US ob­jec­tions, will con­tinue con­struct­ing hous­ing for Jewish set­tlers on land claimed by the Pales­tini­ans over the course of the ne­go­ti­a­tions, an in­di­ca­tion the Pales­tini­ans are se­ri­ous about drop­ping their long­stand­ing de­mand for a set­tle­ment freeze be­fore re­turn­ing to talks. The of­fi­cials said the US be­lieves the Pales­tini­ans also will not at­tempt to win fur­ther in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion as a state un­til a peace deal is com­pleted, an ef­fort that one of­fi­cial likened to a po­ten­tial “train wreck”.

Kerry said that Is­rael, which agreed on Sun­day to re­lease more than 100 Pales­tinian pris­on­ers as a good­will ges­ture, would also take un­spec­i­fied steps in the com­ing days to ease harsh liv­ing con­di­tions in the West Bank and Gaza.

The two se­nior of­fi­cials said those mea­sures com­ple­ment a $4 bil­lion pri­vate sec­tor eco­nomic pro­gram that Kerry is try­ing put in place to as­sist the Pales­tini­ans.

JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

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