Israeli and Palestinian negotiators kicked off their first substantive round of peace talks in nearly five years, huddling together at an undisclosed location Wednesday in search of an end to decades of conflict with high tensions and low expectations
The meeting is held in secrecy, an attempt to prevent leaks to the media and maintain trust.
Ahead of the meeting, there already were signs of trouble. A new Israeli push to build hundreds of new homes in Jewish settlements and fresh fighting in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip underscored the tough road ahead.
“We are committed to making the effort, for the sake of Israel and for Israel’s values,” Israel’s chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, told Channel 10 TV before the talks began. “It will be complicated and complex, but I am not giving up.”
The negotiations came after months of mediation by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has made six trips to the region since taking office early this year.
It was the third attempt since 2000 to agree on the terms of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have reconvened US-brokered peace talks in Jerusalem amid low expectations, and dogged by plans for more Jewish settler homes on occupied land
On Wednesday, Israel freed 26 Palestinians jailed between 1985 and 2001, many for deadly attacks on Israelis.
Their release, coupled with President Mahmoud Abbas’s dropping of a demand for a settlement freeze before talks could begin, helped to pave the way towards negotiations.
The resumption of negotiations, after a first round in Washington last month that ended a three-year standoff over Jewish settlement building, followed Palestinian celebrations overnight.
“Israel will resort to feints and evasion and put up impossible demands in order to say that these negotiations are fruitless and to continue its policy of stealing land as it has done until this moment,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief peace negotiator and justice minister, said on her Facebook page before the teams met:
“Today, I will continue the important mission I began – to achieve a peace agreement that will keep the country Jewish and democratic and provide security … for Israel and its citizens.”
Israeli cabinet minister Yaakov Peri said a “long and exhausting trek” lay ahead.
“Both for the Palestinians and for us, the hourglass is running out. We will not have many more opportunities to resolve this dispute,” Peri told Army Radio.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has set a goal of nine months for an agreement to be reached.
We hope this new talks will end in a peaceable agreement that will see to peace in the Middle East, end the stone throwing and killings that have held the zone down for as long as we can remember