Momentary relief in the Washington theatre of Mideast peace efforts has greeted Israeli and Palestinian agreement to hold direct peace talks for the first time in 20 months. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned they must not fail to strike a deal within a year from the September 2 launch.
US Special Envoy George Mitchell said: “We will be active and sustained partners, although we
recognise that this is a bilateral negotiation, and we have indicated to both parties that, as necessary and appropriate, we will offer bridging proposals.”
They will need bridges; The Palestinians say any new Jewish settlement building on land where they aim to found their own state would scupper the talks.
Israel refuses to be pinned down on this, said spokesman Mark Regev: “Israel welcomes the American invitation to start direct peace talks with the Palestinians without preconditions. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been calling to start such talks for a year and a half now.”
Talks broke down in 2008 when Israel bombed the Gaza Strip, it said to stop Hamas militant rocket attacks.
The chief Palestinian negotiator wants a settlement-building moratorium extended. Saeb Erekat said: “Now it’s time for every side to honour its obligations and commitments, and we hope that the Israeli government will choose peace, not settlements — will choose reconciliation and not the continuation of occupation.”
A majority of Israel’s leadership opposes renewing the West Bank settlement freeze past its September 26 expiry date. Israel annexed the land from Jordan in the 1967 War.