Published July 29, 2013
Israeli and Palestinian teams headed to Washington on Monday for preliminary talks on resuming formal negotiations after five years of stalemate.
Both sides emphasized that many obstacles stand between them and a final deal on setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Talks will be complex, said Israel's chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni. She told the Associated Press she was heading to the Washington meetings "cautiously, but also with hope."
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian spokeswoman, told AP the upcoming talks are being held under more difficult conditions than previous negotiations. Specifically, Ashrawi cited the Palestinian political split, with Western-backed moderates and Islamic militants running rival governments, and the more hawkish positions of Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, compared to his predecessor.
"But I think there is a recognition of the urgency," she said. "If we don't move fast and decisively, things could fall apart."
The restart of the long-stalled talks is being attributed to Secretary of State John Kerry's six months of frenetic shuttle diplomacy.
Agency spokeswoman Jen Psaki said both sides had accepted invitations from Kerry to come to Washington "to formally resume direct final status negotiations" that are scheduled to begin Monday evening and continue Tuesday.
Psaki said in a statement that Kerry on Sunday called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and that the leaders agreed the talks would "serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months."
Kerry said in the statement: "Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point. We are grateful for their leadership."
Kerry had announced on July 19 in Amman, Jordan, that negotiators from the two sides would be coming to Washington in a "week or so" after having agreed on a basis for resuming negotiations after a five-year break. However, he warned that the agreement was still being formalized.
The carefully worded statement Sunday offered no details of the framework for the resumption of the talks that broke down five years ago, though both sides' positions are well known.
One possibility is the so-called "two-state solution" that establishes an independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.
The statement was released shortly after the Israeli Cabinet agreed to release 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners convicted of deadly attacks, meeting a longstanding Palestinian demand.
"This moment is not easy for me," Netanyahu said. "It is not easy for the ministers. It is not easy especially for the families, the bereaved families, whose heart I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country and this is one of those moments."
The Israelis will be represented by Livni, who is also Israel's Justice Minister and Yitzhak Molcho. The Palestinians will be represented by Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh.
The Associated Press contributed to this report