U.S. working on date for Israeli, Palestinian meetings

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 22, 2013 4:17 PM
U.S. working on date for Israeli, Palestinian meetings

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is working to bring together Israeli and Palestinian representatives in Washington in the coming weeks to seek ways to open direct talks in the long-moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, officials said on Monday.

The talks about the possibility of talks, which could come as early as next week, represent the most tangible achievement from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's lengthy shuttle diplomacy in the region in recent weeks.

Kerry, who was meeting President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, announced on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had tentatively agreed to resume peace talks three years after negotiations broke down in 2010 over Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"We are working on a date for the parties to come to Washington in the coming weeks to move that process along," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

He noted the enormity of the challenge in seeking an elusive Mideast peace deal, a task that many of Obama's predecessors have taken on only to find the parties unwilling to strike an agreement.

Seeking Middle East peace has been "an enormous challenge for Israelis and Palestinians and for successive administrations here in Washington, but the fact that it has been such a difficult challenge does not mean that it should not constantly be addressed," Carney said.

The Washington talks would include Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israel's Cabinet officer in charge of the diplomatic effort, Tzipi Livni.

Obama, who visited Israel and Jordan in March, called for peace talks at the time but has not invested his political capital in a major diplomatic drive, instead focusing on withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and offering limited assistance to Syrian rebels waging war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Two years ago Obama tried to break the diplomatic deadlock by declaring that the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war should be the basis of a deal. Israel reacted in protest.

Asked about the 1967 borders, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "There are a number of issues that will continue to be discussed between all of the parties."

She said the State Department expected to have a senior team in place to help manage the process but that no decision had been made on appointing a senior envoy. This is an issue that Kerry is "thinking about and talking about with his senior team," Psaki said.

There has been speculation that the senior envoy role could be filled by Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel. Psaki called Indyk "a very well-respected professional with a great deal of experience and background" but she would not comment on the speculation.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Lesley Wroughton and Steve Holland; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Eric Beech)