WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Friday that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to return to the negotiating table, under US mediation.
The Obama Administration has been pushing for a speedy resumption of face-to-face negotiations that broke down in December 2008.
US special Mideast envoy George Mitchell, who joined Clinton at the special press conference announcing the breakthrough in Mideast talks, has been shuttling between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for months in a bid to get them to agree.
Resumption of the talks would mark a diplomatic victory for the White House, which has struggled to get both sides back to the bargaining table.
In her statement, Clinton invited Netanyahu and Abbas to a September 2nd summit in Washington, hosted by US President Barack Obama.
'Commitment to the goal of two states'
"Since the beginning of this administration, we have worked with the Israelis and Palestinians and our international partners to advance the cause of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including a two-state solution which ensures security and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians," Clinton said.
"The president and I are encouraged by the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas and fully share their commitment to the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
"After proximity talks and consultations with both sides... I've invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet on September 2nd in Washington, DC to relaunch direct negotiations to resolve all final-status issues, which we believe can be completed within one year."
Obama, she added, has also invited President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan to attend the summit, "in view of their critical role in this effort… The president will hold bilateral meetings with the four leaders, followed by a dinner with them, on September 1st. The Quartet representative Tony Blair has also been invited.
"I've invited Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to join me here at the State Department on the following day for a trilateral meeting to relaunch direct negotiations."
Hopeful. Clinton and Mitchell (Photo: AFP)
"As we move forward," she continued, "It is important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it. There have been difficulties in the past; there will be difficulties ahead. Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles. The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks.
But I ask the parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times and to continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region. These negotiations should take place without preconditions, and be characterized by good faith and a commitment to their success, which will bring a better future to all of the people of the region," Clinton concluded.
'It can be done'
"We believe it can be done within a year and that is our objective," George Mitchell told reporters after Clinton's announcement. The US, he said, will be an active participant in the talks, and will offer "bridging proposals" designed to advance the negotiations. He did not specify further, adding only that "in the end, these decisions will be made by the parties themselves."
"We are all well aware that there remains mistrust between the parties, a residue of hostility developed over many decades of conflict, many previous efforts that have been made to resolve the conflict that have not succeeded – all of which takes a very heavy toll on both societies and their leaders.
"We all know," he continued, "That, as with all societies, there are differences of opinion on both sides on how best to proceed. And as a result, this conflict has remained unresolved over many decades and through many efforts. We don't expect all of those differences to disappear when talks begin. Indeed, we expect that they will be presented, debated, discussed, and that differences are not going to be resolved immediately.
"But we do believe that peace in the Middle East, comprehensive peace, including but not limited to an end to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, is very much in the interest of Israelis and Palestinians, of all people in the region; it's in the national-security interest of the United States; and therefore, we are going to continue to pursue that objective with patience, perseverance and determination."
Also Friday, the Quartet of world powers engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process issued a statement calling on both parties to accept Clinton's invitation to a September summit. The Quartet pledged its support for the talks, and reiterated Clinton's hope that a peace agreement could be achieved within a year.
Top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton reiterated Clinton and the Quartet's calls for a summit, urging both parties to work hard, so that a peace deal could be achieved within a year.
AP and Reuters contributed to this report
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