The restarted Mideast peace talks that began with a concession from Israel get underway after an iftar dinner at the State Department tonight.
President Obama called the meeting between negotiating teams “a promising step forward, though hard work and hard choices remain ahead.”
“During my March visit to the region, I experienced first-hand the profound desire for peace among both Israelis and Palestinians, which reinforced my belief that peace is both possible and necessary. I deeply appreciate Secretary Kerry’s tireless work with the parties to develop a common basis for resuming direct talks, and commend both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas for their leadership in coming to the table,” Obama said in a statement.
“The most difficult work of these negotiations is ahead, and I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith and with sustained focus and determination. The United States stands ready to support them throughout these negotiations, with the goal of achieving two states, living side by side in peace and security.”
The talks got green-lighted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision, approved by a divided cabinet, to free 104 Palestinian prisoners.
“This moment is not easy for me. It is not easy for the ministers. It is not easy especially for the families, the bereaved families, whose heart I understand,” Netanyahu said yesterday. “But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country and this is one of those moments.”
Haaretz reported that the released Palestinians are responsible for the deaths of 55 civilians, 15 soldiers, one female tourist and dozens of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel.
At the State Department today, Secretary of State John Kerry claimed the new momentum “began with President Obama’s historic trip to Israel and Ramallah in March of this year.”
“And without his commitment, without his conversations there, and without his engagement in this initiative, we would not be here today. The President charged me directly with the responsibility to explore fully the possibility of resuming talks,” Kerry said. “And in our meetings with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, he conveyed his expectations for this process.”
Kerry saluted “both” leaders “for their willingness to make difficult decisions.”
“Going forward, it’s no secret that this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time. It’s 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. I think reasonable compromises has to be a keystone of all of this effort. I know the negotiations are going to be tough, but I also know that the consequences of not trying could be worse,” he said.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk will lead the U.S. team in the talks.
“Ambassador Indyk is realistic. He understands that Israeli-Palestinian peace will not come easily and it will not happen overnight. But he also understands that there is now a path forward and we must follow that path with urgency. He understands that to ensure that lives are not needlessly lost, we have to ensure that opportunities are not needlessly lost. And he shares my belief that if the leaders on both sides continue to show strong leadership and a willingness to make those tough choices and a willingness to reasonably compromise, then peace is possible,” Kerry said.
Indyk, who’s taking leave from the Brookings Institution, told Kerry the resumption of talks “is testament to your extraordinary tireless efforts, backed by President Obama, to try to resolve this intractable conflict.”
“President Obama made the case so eloquently in his historic speech in Jerusalem in March of this year when he argued to an audience of young Israelis that, quote, ‘Peace is necessary, peace is just, and peace is possible.’ And you, Mr. Secretary, have proven him right. You’ve shown that it can be done,” Indyk gushed. “I couldn’t agree more with President Obama.”
As usual, negotiations are taking place only with the Fatah-ruled West Bank and not the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan called the talks “political suicide at the expense of the Palestinian rights.”
Hamdan also claimed Hamas “has made many substantial concessions to achieve reconciliation.”
“I applaud Secretary Kerry’s success in bringing the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Peace and a two-state solution in the Middle East will only come about by Israelis and Palestinians talking face-to-face,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “Negotiations require compromise and yesterday’s vote by the Israeli cabinet to free convicted Palestinian terrorists as a confidence building measure exemplifies the painstaking decisions that lie ahead for everyone involved. The Palestinian leadership will need to quickly demonstrate similar political courage as talks move forward.”