Today, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced in a press conference in Amman that direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations are due to begin next week in Washington. The announcement comes after Kerry had traveled to the region six times within four months and spent countless hours in talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“We have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” he told reporters in Jordan. “The agreement is still in the process of being formalized.”
Kerry said that the heads of the negotiation teams of Israel and the Palestinians – Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat – will travel to Washington next week in order to hold preliminary talks and discuss further details on the negotiations.
Abbas, who met with Kerry in Ramallah earlier Friday, said “lengthy talks … have resulted in the Palestinians accepting the resumption of talks.”
In a statement, Abbas said “some details still need to be worked out,” but that Israeli and Palestinian officials could be invited to Washington for talks in the coming days. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that “four years of diplomatic impasse are about to end.”
“I know that once the talks will begin they will be complicated and not easy,” she said. “But I am convinced in all my heart that this is the right thing for our future, our security, our economy, and the values of Israel. The prime minister deserves deep appreciation for making decisions that represent the important interests of Israel.”
Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich welcomed the move but said, “We should not make do with the resumption of talks – we must do everything possible to work toward a real agreement.”
A Palestinian source told Haaretz the Palestinians did not wish to as the intransigent side so they agreed to launch the talks for a limited period in order to discuss the principles of the negotiation, focusing on borders in particular.
A commentator in Haaretz wrote that ” Unlike his predecessor in the state department Hillary Clinton, Kerry became neither shocked nor exasperated by the intransigence, excuses and manipulations of Netanyahu and Abbas. He attempted to persuade again and again and again. He embraced and supported, but knew how to pressure and to threaten. When a door got shut he came in through the window. He would not release his foot from the throttle and in the end he tired out both Netanyahu and Abbas. Kerry was willing to stake his reputation and all of his political capital. The gamble was great but so is his diplomatic achievement. After such a long freeze in negotiations, and a lack of any hope for a breakthrough, Kerry’s announcement echoed loudly from Marrakesh to Bangladesh.”
Its of importance to understand that this peace initiative has the support of the Arab League and provides a unique opportunity to reach an agreement which will be accepted by the members of the Arab League. Now the big question remains: will each participant be interested only in a peace process or determined to reach a peace accord? Furthermore, is each participant, especially Israel, willing to tackle the important issues which include borders, refugees, security, status of Jerusalem, West Bank and the Golan Heights.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, the JStreet President, hit the nail on the head when he wrote today that ” Vocal minorities on both sides can be expected to oppose the negotiations going forward but must not be allowed to frustrate the desire of clear majorities of Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution to end this conflict.”
I hope he is right.