Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have begun for the first time since 2010. The US has set a nine-month deadline for negotiations, but Israel's latest settlement approvals have already threatened cooperation.
The first round of high-level talks between Israeli and Palestinian chief negotiators began late Wednesday in Jerusalem. The talks aims to tackle core issues hindering the sides from ending the territorial conflict and establishing a Palestinian state.
Negotiators met in Washington last week, where US Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a preliminary meeting aimed at outlining the key issues for peace talks.
Earlier on Wednesday, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni reiterated Israel's goal of completing negotiations after failed attempts in 2008 and 2010.
"We are committed to making the effort, for the sake of Israel and for Israel's values," Livni told Israeli Channel 10 TV. "It will be complicated and complex, but I am not giving up."
Livni, along with Yitzhak Molcho - adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - sat down with Palestinian counterparts Saeb Erekat, who heads the team, and Mohammed Shtayyeh at an undisclosed location in Jerusalem Wednesday night.
Talks ended in 2010 due to an impasse over the issue of settlements. Palestinians want to combine the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and east Jerusalem to form their own state, however, Israel continues to allow settlers to build and occupy areas within these lands captured by Israel during the 1967 war.
Tension builds around settlements
Israel's housing ministry did not shy away from approving new housing days before the peace talks were scheduled to resume. It announced earlier this week it had approved up to 2,000 new settlement homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Despite the uproar unleashed by Israel's controversial decision, Palestinian officials did not cancel the talks. Their chief negotiator did, however, express doubt at how genuine Israeli diplomatic efforts were.
"If the Israeli government believes that every week they're going to cross a red line by settlement activity ... what they're advertising is the unsustainability of the negotiations," Erekat said over the weekend.
Ahead of the historic negotiations, Israel released the first group of Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal negotiated by US top diplomat John Kerry. Of the 26 freed on Wednesday, 15 returned to the Gaza Strip and 11 to the West Bank.
kms/lw (AP, Reuters, dpa)