Israelis, Palestinians will meet again soon: Kerry
Updated: 2013-07-31 07:33
WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that the Israelis and the Palestinians will meet within two weeks for more peace talks, and all the final status issues -- Jerusalem, security, the Jewish settlements, borders and refugees -- will be on the table for negotiations.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (L-R), US Secretary of State John Kerry and Israel's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni shake hands at a news conference at the end of talks at the State Department in Washington, July 30, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]
"The parties have agreed to remain engaged in sustained, continuous and substantive negotiations on the core issues, and they will meet within the next two weeks either in Israel or the Palestinian territories in order to begin the process of formal negotiation," the top American envoy told reporters at the State Department at the conclusion of two-day initial talks between the two sides.
The initial talks aimed at setting agenda and procedures for the formal final status negotiations that both sides have agreed will last at least nine months. Kerry described the meetings as " constructive" and "positive."
"The parties have agreed here today that all the final status issues, all the core issues and all other issues are all on the table for negotiation," Kerry told the press, with Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat at his side.
"They are on the table with one simple goal: a view to ending the conflict, ending the claims," he stressed. "Our objective will be to achieve a final-status agreement over the course of the next nine months."
Kerry's intensive shuttle diplomacy in his six trips to the Middle East after taking office on February 1 brought the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to Washington for resumed peace talks, nearly three years after the last direct talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fell apart over squabbles on settlement building in the West Bank.
In his peace efforts, Kerry and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair have put in place a 4-billion-US dollar economic development plan for the Palestinians.
In addition, Kerry has secured the Arab League's endorsement for his proposals for restarting the talks. One day before the talks restarted in Washington, the Israeli cabinet okayed the release of 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners during the upcoming negotiations, a demand by the Palestinians for resumed talks.
In return, the Palestinian side has reportedly agreed not to resort to the United Nations for upgraded statehood status during the talks with Israel.
As was in Kerry's past shuttle efforts, all sides will remain tight-lipped about the future talks.
"The parties also agreed that the two sides will keep the content of the negotiations confidential," Kerry said. "And I will be the only one, by agreement, authorized to comment publicly on the talks."
In a show of his seriousness about the peace process, Kerry on Monday named Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel well- versed in the Middle East affairs, as his new peace envoy to oversee the upcoming negotiations.
"The United States will work continuously with both parties as a facilitator every step of the way," the secretary told reporters at the State Department. "We all understand the goal that we're working towards: two states living side-by-side in peace and security."
As he did on Monday, he again called for "reasonable compromises" in the talks ahead.
"We need to actually change the way we think about compromise in order to get to success," he said. "Compromise doesn't only mean giving up something or giving something away. Reasonable, principled compromise in the name of peace means that everybody stands to gain. Each side has a stake in the other's success, and everyone can benefit from the dividends of peace."
On Monday, the secretary called for "reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues," acknowledging the peace process a "difficult" one.
"If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago," he argued.
President Barack Obama, who made a trip to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan in March, met with the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at the White House on Tuesday morning.
He issued a statement on Monday calling for "good faith" and " sustained focus and determination" in approaching the talks, and he pledged US support throughout the negotiations "with the goal of achieving two states, living side by side in peace and security. "
"Palestinians have suffered enough, and no one benefits more from the success of this endeavor more than Palestinians," Erekat told reporters at the State Department.
"I'm delighted that all final-status issues are on the table and will be resolved without any exceptions," he added. "And it's time for the Palestinian people to have an independent sovereign state of their own."
For her part, Livni said her country intended not to "argue about the past" in the negotiations, but to "create solutions and make decisions for the future."
"We all know that it's not going to be easy. It's going to be hard, with ups and downs," she said.
She turned to Erekat, saying "We all spent some time in the negotiations room. We didn't reach dead end in the past, but we didn't complete our mission."
"And this is something that we need to do now in these negotiations that we will launch today," she added. "And the opportunity has been created for us, for all of us, and we cannot afford to waste it."