Israeli president hails resumption of peace talks
Israel's President Shimon Peres speaks during a news conference. REUTERS PhotoIsraeli President Shimon Peres today hailed the resumption of long-stalled peace talks with Palestinians, saying he hoped for an end to the “stormy situation” in the Middle East.
“We want to establish a two-state solution of a Palestinian state beside the state of Israel, living in peace and friendship and bringing an end to all conflict, which is so necessary today for all the people in the Middle East,” Peres told reporters on a visit to Latvia. He described the start of talks in Washington as a “special day.”
“The Middle East is in a stormy situation. We hope the Middle East will overcome its storm and land in a port of peace,” the 89-year-old head of state added.
Peres also downplayed any potential mediating role by the European Union, saying: “United Europe should help but leave the negotiations to ourselves and the Palestinians.”
Israeli and Palestinian teams headed to Washington today for preliminary talks on resuming formal negotiations after five years of stalemate, amid hopes U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s quiet diplomacy may this time carry some chance of success.
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 Israeli Justice Minister and chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni. She said she was heading to the Washington meetings, which were set to begin later today, “cautiously, but also with hope.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian spokeswoman, said the talks are being held under more difficult conditions than previous negotiations. She 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 dream of a Middle East peace deal has for decades been a chimera chased by U.S. presidents but has stalled since September 2010, shot down by deep divisions and distrust between the two sides. After months of dogged diplomacy, Kerry earlier this month, on his sixth trip to the region, wrested from both sides an accord setting out “the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations.”
Tzipi Livni, as well as legal aide Yitzhak Molcho, were scheduled to first meet late today with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat and senior official Mohammad Shtayyeh for an Iftar dinner hosted by Kerry to break the fast observed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. “Initial meetings are planned for the evening of Monday July 29 and Tuesday July 30, 2013,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
The preliminary talks in Washington were made possible after Israel’s Cabinet on July 28 agreed in principle to release 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners, convicted of offenses including the killing or wounding of Israelis and the killing of suspected Palestinian collaborators.
Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.