Mideast peace talks to resume
Updated: 2013-07-30 10:05
Optimism in short supply after two decades of failed attempts
Israeli and Palestinian teams flew to Washington on Monday to end a long diplomatic stalemate and prepare for a new round of Middle East peace talks, though optimism was in short supply after two decades of failed attempts to reach a deal.
The resumption of talks was made possible by a decision by Israel's Cabinet on Sunday to free 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners in four stages, linked to progress in talks. The release was part of an agreement brokered early this month by United States Secretary of State John Kerry to bring the sides back to the negotiating table.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been reluctant to negotiate with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fearing the hard-line Israeli leader will reject what the Palestinians consider minimal territorial demands.
The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in 1967, but have accepted the principle of limited land swaps to allow Israel to annex some of the dozens of settlements it has built on war-won lands.
Abbas had repeatedly said he would only go to talks if Israel either freezes settlement building or recognizes the 1967 lines as a starting point for drawing the border of a state of Palestine.
Palestinian officials reiterated on Monday that they received assurances that Washington considers the 1967 lines the basis for border talks.
However, a senior Abbas aide acknowledged that Israel has not signed on to that principle. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with reporters.
Senior Israeli officials have also reiterated in recent days that settlement construction would continue. This time "all of the issues that are at the core of a permanent accord will be negotiated simultaneously", Silvan Shalom, a member of Netanyahu's cabinet and rightist Likud party, told Israel's Army Radio.
The Palestinian official said the expected prisoner release went a long way toward persuading Abbas to give negotiations another chance, even without Israel meeting his long-standing demands on the terms of such talks.
The US State Department said it would try to establish a work plan for the broader negotiations, which are to last six to nine months.
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian spokeswoman, said the talks are being held under more difficult conditions than previous negotiations.