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Netanayahu and Abbas agree to biweekly Israeli-Palestinian meetings

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have opened direct peace negotiations in Washington to the praise of numerous international leaders. Still, finding a solution to their decades-long conflict is an uphill battle.

Abbas and Netanyahu

The next round of talks are to take place Sept. 14-15

The first direct peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in 20 months opened on Thursday with both sides aiming to reach a lasting peaceful solution within a year.

Representatives of Israel and the Palestinian Authority are to meet every two weeks, with the next meeting to take place Sept. 14-15 in Egypt.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly agreed that the first step would be to create a "framework agreement" that would establish the fundamental compromises necessary for the realization of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Such compromises would likely center on the borders of the two states - including Jerusalem, which both sides want as a capital; the fate of Palestinian refugees who left their homeland after the creation of Israel in 1948; and the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Israel's temporary moratorium on such construction is due to expire on Sept. 26, and Abbas has reportedly told Netanyahu that he would walk away from negotiations if Israel's construction resumed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (l) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House

Israel and the Palestinians have started their first face-to-face talks in almost two years

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted the talks on Thursday, and praised both leaders for their "courage and commitment."

"By being here today, you each have taken an important step toward freeing your peoples from the shackles of a history we cannot change and moving toward a future of peace and dignity that only you can create," Clinton said.

German, British support for peace

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and his British counterpart William Hague urged Israelis and Palestinians to show "perseverance, commitment and courage," and said that the European Union stood ready to support the Mideast peace negotiations in Washington.

"We appeal to all parties involved to create circumstances that would allow the success of these peace talks," said Westerwelle, as he met with Hague in London on Thursday.

Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, also urged the two sides to "persevere through difficult times." It was very important, she said, that "all relevant parties avoid provocative actions which could undermine the success of the talks."

Ministers warn against failure

Hague and Westerwelle

Westerwelle and Hague said the EU stands behind the peace negotiations

Westerwelle called the talks a "direct chance for success," but warned that radicals in the Middle East would do everything in their power to undermine any advances at the negotiating table.

"We expect many radical forces to try hard to lay hurdles in the path of negotiations. Thus, we must make use of our influence to encourage the moderate and constructive forces, so that they can keep the upper hand," he said.

Hague said Britain, Germany and the European Union supported "a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside a safe and secure Israel."

"Failure would be very serious, but we hope that the courage and commitment will bring about success," he added.

Westerwelle, however, injected a note of realism at the joint press conference, saying he was "cautiously optimistic" that the talks offered an "opportunity - no more, no less."

"No one knows, here and now, where these talks will lead," he said, [but] we encourage all parties to engage in a constructive spirit and not be diverted from the path leading toward peace."

Authors: Andrew Bowen, Gregg Benzow (dpa/AFP/Reuters)
Editor: Rick Demarest

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