Israeli, Palestinian Leaders to Resume Peace Talks in Washington

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2013-07_5750ea630b.jpgiStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials will meet over the next two days to try and hash out parameters to formally resume direct peace talks, the State Department announced on Sunday. This will be the first time in nearly three years the parties will have sat down for negotiations.

Secretary of State John Kerry recently spoke with both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and personally extended an invitation to their respective senior negotiating teams to come to Washington for the talks, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement released on Sunday.

“Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point.  We are grateful for their leadership,” Kerry said in the statement.

The meeting follows Kerry’s announcement on July 19 in Amman, Jordan, that the Israelis and Palestinians had reached agreement to begin negotiations on the parameters to resume direct final status negotiations.  At the talks in Washington, the Israelis will be represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho, and the Palestinians will be represented by Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh, Psaki said.

Among the most contentious issues are the status of Jerusalem, the status of Israeli settlements, and a return to 1967 borders when carving out a new Palestinian state.

Earlier on Sunday, the Israeli cabinet approved the new round of U.S.-sponsored negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and to release a total of 104 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

Netanyahu said the decision to release the prisoners was not taken lightly.

“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,” he said.  “But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country and this is one of those moments.”

Resuming the Middle East peace process has been a major focus for Kerry since he began his tenure.  He has made six trips to the region as secretary of state, each time pressing Israeli and Palestinian leaders, believing the timing is right for the parties to sit down and negotiate a final status for the two-state solution.

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