Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have agreed that all “final status and “core” issues in the just- resumed Middle East peace process are on the table and subject to negotiation, U.S. Secretary for State John Kerry said Tuesday at a press conference in Washington.
The statement apparently means that Israel made no preconditions for the resumption of the peace talks — a long-time position of the Jewish state. If true, it would represent a major concession by Palestinian Authority leadership, which has long demanded a return to 1967 borders, recognition of East Jerusalem as its capital and the right of return for refugees.
Flanked at the podium by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, Kerry said, “The parties have agreed that all the final status issues and all the core issues are on the table for negotiation.”
Erekat echoed that statement.
“I’m delighted all final status issues are on the table and will be resolved without exception,” he said. “It’s time for the Palestinian people to have a sovereign state of their own.”
Livni addressed Erekat directly in her marks, informally referring to him as “Saeb” and noting how they have met before over a negotiating table, without success.
“We didn’t complete our mission,” she told Erekat. “This is something we need to do now.”
The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resumed in Washington Monday for the first time since 2010. Kerry kicked off the renewed process by announcing Martin Indyk as his special envoy to the talks — a move that was widely anticipated — and by hosting a break-fast Ramadan dinner for all the parties.
President Barack Obama met with the negotiators Tuesday morning at the White House.
The talks are slated to resume in two weeks either in Israel or the Palestinian territories.
At the press conference, Kerry made clear that the parties have agreed to keep the substance of the talks confidential. “I will be the only one, by agreement, authorized to comment on the talks in consultation with the other parties.”
The objective of the talks is a final status peace agreement in nine months, Kerry said. Sooner than that, though, he said the United States would take steps in the coming days and weeks to improve conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, though he didn’t elaborate.
Kerry did commend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, saying they have “demonstrated courageous leadership to bring us here.”
“Their commitment to make tough choices, frankly, should give all of us hope that these negotiations can lead to something,” the secretary said.
The resumed peace talks come days after Israel agreed to the staged-release of 104 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture. The move is meeting praise and criticism in the Jewish state.
Dozens of demonstrators gathered at Netanyahu’s bureau on Sunday to protest the planned release of the prisoners ahead of the renewed peace talks. The prisoner release was approved 13-7 by Israel’s cabinet.
A seasoned Middle East negotiator, Indyk returns to the State Department after a stint as vice president and director for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Born in London and raised and educated in Australia, Indyk, who is Jewish, is a naturalized American citizen.
He was also founding executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a research institute specializing in analysis of Middle East policy, and has taught at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, and the Department of Politics at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.
While the parties acknowledged the difficulty of the peace talks, they were all upbeat in their comments as well.
“History is not made by cynics,” Livni said, “it is made by realists who are not afraid, and let us be these people.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)