ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN TALKS BEGIN AMID DEEP DIVISIONS

NewsMax on July 30, 2013, published a Thomson/Reuters report on Israeli and Palestinian negotiators holding their first peace talks in nearly three years in a U.S.-brokered effort that Secretary of State John Kerry hopes will end their conflict despite deep divisions. Excerpts below:

Top aides to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas began the talks over an “iftar” dinner — the evening meal with which Muslims break their daily fast during Ramadan — hosted by Kerry at the State Department.

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.

“It is no secret this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago,” Kerry said with his newly named envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, at his side.

“Many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional, and symbolic issues,” Kerry added.

As the sides came together in Washington Kerry met separately with each, starting with the Israelis, before all came together around the dinner table.

The parties have publicly sparred over how the negotiations will unfold, with an Israeli official saying all issues would be discussed simultaneously and a Palestinian official saying they would start with borders and security.

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.

In an interview with Reuters Television in Washington, Livni voiced some hope about the talks. “It is not a favor to the United States or to the Palestinians, this is something that we need to do,” she said.

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 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.

Abbas and Netanyahu may have enormous difficulty convincing their own people to accept the compromises needed for peace, Middle East expert Rob Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank wrote.

Netanyahu’s domestic politics are difficult, with some of his coalition partners against the creation of a Palestinian state, Danin said, adding he may have to leave the Likud Party, as some of his predecessors did, in order to make concessions.

“Both sides will be negotiating, not only with each other across a table, but also with their own people back home.”

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.

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.

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