US Secretary of State John Kerry named former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk as his main envoy in Israeli-Palestinian talks starting in Washington later on Monday and said he was seeking "reasonable compromises" in the tough negotiations.
"Going forward it is no secret this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago," Kerry told reporters.
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"It is no secret, therefore, that many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues."
Kerry said Indyk is 'realistic' about the difficulties facing the Israelis and Palestinians and US negotiators in the resumption of the long-stalled talks.
At a State Department announcement, Kerry said that "the cause of peace" has been Indyk's life's mission.
Kerry-Indyk press conference (Video: Reuters)
Standing alongside Kerry, Indyk said his new role was "a daunting and humbling challenge but one I cannot desist from."
"It has been my conviction for 40 years that peace is possible," Indyk said.
"Because of your confidence that it could be done," Indyk told Kerry, "you took up the challenge when most people thought you were on a mission impossible."
Indyk was to join the start of the talks later Monday, at an iftar dinner to be hosted by Kerry, before a full day of negotiations with Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat.
Currently at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, Indyk served as former President Bill Clinton's ambassador to Israel and was a key part of the failed 2000 Camp David peace talks. He was also a special assistant to Clinton and senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs at the National Security Council from 1993 to 1995. And, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs in the State Department from 1997 to 2000.
Kerry, Indyk during press conference (Photo: EPA)
Before working in government, Indyk was founding executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Indyk, 62, replaces David Hale, who had served as a place holder in the post until last month. He had replaced former Sen. George Mitchell as the Obama administration's first special Mideast envoy. Mitchell resigned in 2011 following two years of fruitless and frustrating attempts to get the Israelis and Palestinians to engage in serious negotiations.
Indyk's appointment has been carefully choreographed to come just hours before senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators sit down for a working dinner hosted by Kerry. Kerry spent much of his first six months as America's top diplomat in frenetic diplomacy trying to get the two sides to agree to resume peace talks that broke down in 2008. Since February, he has made six trips to the region shuttling between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to cajole them into returning to negotiations.
Kerry announced on July 19 in Amman, Jordan, that the two sides had reached a basis for returning to the table, but stressed that it still had to be formalized. On Sunday, the State Department announced that the two sides had accepted invitations from Kerry to come to Washington "to formally resume direct final status negotiations."
That followed a decision by Israel's Cabinet to free 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners, a longstanding demand of Abbas.
Abbas has been reluctant to negotiate with Netanyahu, fearing the hard-line Israeli leader will reject what the Palestinians consider minimal territorial demands. The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in 1967, but have accepted the principle of limited land swaps to allow Israel to annex some of the dozens of settlements it has built on war-won lands.
Abbas had repeatedly said he will only go to talks if Israel either freezes settlement building or recognizes the 1967 lines as a starting point for drawing the border of a state of Palestine.
Israel has made no such concessions, at least publicly, and the details of the framework for the talks brokered by Kerry remain shrouded in mystery.
Earlier Monday, Livni told reporters after meeting UN leader Ban Ki-moon that peace talks with the Palestinians would be "very tough" but insisted they were necessary because of the growing troubles in the Middle East.
"It is going to be very tough and problematic," the Israeli justice minister told reporters after meeting UN leader Ban Ki-moon and before going to Washington for the start of preliminary talks.
Livni said Israel was "hopeful" about the US-brokered talks and said Palestinian prisoners would be released during the negotiations as agreed with the United States and the Palestinian leadership.
The peace effort is "a mutual interest for Israel, for the Palestinians, the Arab world, the international community," Livni said. "It is quite a responsibility. It is going to be complicated I am sure, but I believe that when we see our troubled region, what we can do is to change the future of generations to come by having peace between Israel and the Palestinians."
Livni said she was happy that Kerry had appointed Indyk as special envoy for the peace talks.
"I congratulate him," she said. "Well I don't know whether to congratulate him because it is going to be very tough and problematic but he is talented enough to face all these challenges and he is familiar with the conflict.
"I know that he is also quite enthusiastic to solve the conflict so we are going with him and are glad to work with him."
Livni said 104 Palestinian prisoners would be freed "during the talks as was agreed."
"We are going to implement our responsibilities according to the understandings with the United States and the Palestinians," she said.
The Israeli cabinet voted on Sunday to release the long term prisoners.
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