US Secretary of State John Kerry says Israel and the Palestinians have come to an agreement that makes fresh peace talks possible. The two sides have not returned to the negotiation table for three years.
Kerry's announcement came at the end of four days of intense diplomatic effort, during which he spoke with Israeli and Palestinian leaders from his base in Jordan.
"I'm pleased to announce that we've reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming final status negotiations between the Palestinian and the Israelis," Kerry told reporters in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
"This is a significant and welcome step forward. The agreement is still in the process of being formalized, so we are absolutely not going to talk about any of the elements now," he added.
Kerry also praised the courage of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the peace negotiations would require "some very tough choices."
He said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni would come to Washington within the next week or so "to begin initial talks."
“These were long months of skepticism and cynicism,” Livni said. “But now, four years of diplomatic stagnation are about to end.”
President Abbas’ spokesman confirmed Kerry’s announcement, saying that progress toward renewed talks had been made.
“Abbas’ meeting with Kerry in his headquarters in Ramallah on Friday evening achieved progress and will facilitate an agreement on the basis of a resumption of talks,” Nabil Abu Rudeina said in a press release.
“Kerry will send an invitation to Erekat and a representative of the Israeli side to meet him in Washington for initial talks in the next few days,” he said.
But Hamas, the militant Islamist organization that controls the Gaza Strip, rejected the prospect of renewed talks outright.
“Hamas rejects Kerry’s announcement of a return to talks and considers the Palestinian Authority’s return to negotiations with the occupation to be at odds with the national consensus,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the AFP news agency.
Dispute over settlements
Talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have been frozen for three years, after Israel refused to a new suspension of settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. The issue of settlement construction will remain a thorny issue in negotiations between the two sides.
On Thursday, the Palestinians seemed to cast uncertainty over the likelihood of talks, when they demanded that negotiations on borders between a Palestinian state and Israel must be based on the cease-fire line that held from 1949 until 1967, when Israel took over the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Israel has up to now rejected preconditions on the talks.
tj,slk/dr (AP, AFP)