An Israeli source expressed little faith in the negotiations, saying: "The problematic issues are numerous. It's hard to believe that any progress can come about, but one cannot ignore the opportunity and one must give the process a chance."
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State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki said talks would begin Monday evening and continue Tuesday. "Secretary Kerry spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and personally extended an invitation to send senior negotiating teams to Washington to formally resume direct final status negotiations," a State Department announcement said.
Livni, Kerry (Photo: Reuters)
"The Israelis will be represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho, and the Palestinians will be represented by Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh. The (upcoming) meetings in Washington will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural workplan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months," the US stated.
According to the statement, Kerry "commended the courage shown by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas," with the US secretary of state saying: “Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point. We are grateful for their leadership.”
Nabil Abu Rdaineh, a senior aide to Palestinian President Abbas who was in the Jordanian capital Amman, said Abbas has received the official invitation to come to the talks.
The Palestinian news agency, WAFA, quoted Abu Rdaineh as saying that the first meeting would aim to develop the procedural working plan for both sides to enable them make headway in talks in the coming months.
Talks to resume (Photo: Kobi Gideon, GPO)
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, also welcomed the invitation as well as Israel's decision to free prisoners and join talks: "We call on Israel to seize the opportunity... to put an end to decades of occupation and exile and to start a new stage of justice, freedom and peace for Israel, Palestine and the rest of the region."
However, as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's representative attorney Yitzhak Molcho prepared to take off for Washington for the beginning of talks, sources within the defense and political establishment warn of Palestinian reluctance to reach an agreement as well as the possibly devastating results that could come with the collapse of negotiations.
The short time for which Livni and Molcho are expected to stay in Washington is telling. The two are scheduled to return to Israel Wednesday after only two meetings with their Palestinian counterparts.
According to a source, the meetings will probably be held in the State Department, far from the cameras' lenses and will probably deal with technical issues: Dates, locations, procedures, lines of communications, agendas, ways to prevent talks from falling apart.
An Israeli source said that the Palestinians want to begin talks with the issue of settlements and final border agreements, while Netanyahu wants to discuss security. The Palestinians also want to tie Netanyahu to a map, while he wants to secure Israeli control of the Jordan valley, but "there will be no empty concessions," a source said.
"We are approaching this negotiation so as to discuss all the issues and resolve all the disagreements."
According to the source, the prime minister "realizes that things have changed. As many of his predecessors did, he changed his perceptions. Today he approaches things differently from what he used to, so you can't tell what he'll do next.
"He used to say that he opposes the presence of an international force in the Jordan Valley, but no go figure. In the past he would never have agreed to a Palestinian state, now he's talking about the demographic threat. When this is the situation, anything can happen."
One of the major threats impeding the talks' success is the issue of Gaza and the PA's relations with Hamas, as well as the authority's lack of sovereignty in Gaza, which is currently run by Hamas. Nonetheless, the source told Ynet that an "interim agreement could be the best thing at this point."
The source further expressed doubt regarding Abbas's willingness to make "hard decisions."
According to the source, "He's playing for time coming to talks. He is not capable of making decisions, nor does he want to do so. He was pushed into a corner by the Americans, so he's coming to talks. If he could derail talks because of the prisoners issue – he would."
Bereaved familes protest release (Photo: Gil Yochanan)
Earlier Sunday, the Israeli government cleared the way for the renewal of the talks by approving the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners. Palestinians have demanded that Israel release the prisoners, and that this group include Israeli-Arabs detained for security offenses.
As part of his efforts to convince ministers to support his proposal, the prime minister decided Thursday to defer the decision on the release of Arab-Israeli prisoners to a later date and only discuss the release of Palestinian prisoners. "Any decision on the release of Arab Israelis, if such a decision is reached, will be sent for reapproval by the government," he stressed.
However, a senior Palestinian source spoke to Ynet and said that the Palestinians agreed to return to peace talks only after receive assurances from the Americans that the Israeli-Arab prisoners will also be released.
News agencies and Ynet correspondents contributed to this report
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