US State Secretary John Kerry announced an agreement has been reached on the resumption of peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians in a press conference in Jordan's capital Amman, after a series of meetings in Jordan and Ramallah with Palestinian officials.
Tzipi Livni, the minister in charge of the negotiation on the Israeli side, the prime minister's emissary Yitzhak Molcho and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat are expected to meet in Washington as early as next week for the beginning of the talks.
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"We have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Kerry told reporters in Jordan. "The agreement is still in the process of being formalized."
Kerry at the press conference (Video: Reuters)
Direct negotiations broke down in late 2010 over Israel's settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, where, along with the Gaza Strip, Palestinians seek statehood.
Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked on the phone several times on Friday in order to formalize the final agreement. Though Israel has not agreed to any preconditions, it has been agreed that Israeli overtures to the Palestinians will probably include the release of veteran Palestinian prisoners and significant economic gestures. The Paletinians, on their side, have agreed not to act unilaterally in September for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Understandings have apparently also been reached on the subject of settlement construction, to the point that Israel will not build outside the main settlement blocks, and the issue will be closely monitored to prevent embarrassment.
The breakthrough was achieved after Kerry's meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Friday afternoon. Earlier the US state secretary met with Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat.
According to forecasts, the negotiations will open without preconditions, will last between nine months to a year, and will discuss all the core issues. In the course of negotiations, the timetable for the overtures will be decided. Though the talks will be handled at first by Livni and Erekat it is estimated that later the talks will move up to involve Netanyahu and Abbas .
The negotiations are expected to be conducted under a shroud of secrecy, the same as the process to renew the talks was handled, the aim being to avoid public pressure and disturbances.
Kerry in Jordan (Photo: AFP)
Abbas presenting PLO with Kerry's outline on Thursday (Photo: EPA)
Though Israel has not committed to any precondition, all issues, including borders and settlements, will be discussed in the talks. The Americans will accompany the negotiations, and will act as a mediator on conflicts that may blow up the talks.
Understandings have apparently also been reached on the subject of settlement construction, to the point that Israel will not build outside the main settlement blocks.
The issue will be closely monitored to prevent embarrassment.
At a stormy late-night meeting of their leadership Thursday, Palestinians balked at dropping a main condition for talks with the Israelis. They demand a guarantee that negotiations on borders between a Palestinian state and Israel would be based on the cease-fire line that held from 1949 until the 1967 war.
Ahmed Majdalani, the Palestinian labor minister, said Kerry has proposed holding talks for six to nine months focusing on the key issues of borders and security arrangements.
He said Kerry would endorse the 1967 lines as the starting point of negotiations and assured the Palestinians that Israel would free some 350 prisoners gradually in the coming months. The prisoners would include some 100 men that Israel convicted of crimes committed before interim peace accords were signed in 1993. Israel has balked at freeing these prisoners in the past because many were convicted in deadly attacks.
Hoping to push Israelis and Palestinians toward talks, President Barack Obama asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to work with Kerry "to resume negotiations with Palestinians as soon as possible," according to a statement released by the White House late Thursday.
The White House statement noted that the leaders also talked about security issues in Egypt, Iran and Syria.
A US official said Kerry would consult with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Friday before ending his visit to the Middle East and returning to the United States but made no mention of an announcement of new negotiations.
Attila Somfalvi, AP contributed to this report
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