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World

New hopes for Middle East peace talks

After years of stalemate, Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to hold talks again to solve the Middle East crisis. It's a first success for US Secretary of State John Kerry who has been pushing for such talks.

How did the new talks come about?

US Secretary of State John Kerry can take credit for restarting peace talks. For the past weeks and months, he has been travelling to the Middle East again and again. Pressure, patience and discretion convinced Israelis and Palestinians to get together for talks.

Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat are expected to meet in Washington DC in the next few days. For now, these talks are merely preliminary talks to prepare peace talks. But in light of the more than difficult circumstances, even those preliminary talks can be regarded as success.

What will be discussed?

Kerry keeps details a secret since he fears too much publicity might harm his efforts. He said the agreement has not yet been formalized.

"We are absolutely not going to talk about any of the elements," he added. The preliminary talks will most likely come up with a schedule for the peace talks and outline what exactly will be discussed.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (photo: REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool)

Kerry (left) has apparently promised Abbas negotiations would be based on the 1967 lines

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had always put forward demands before agreeing on resuming talks: immediately freezing Jewish settlement in disputed territories and acceptance of the 1967 lines. Back then, Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had always rejected preconditions for talks.

The Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed Palestinian source who said Kerry had given a personal guarantee that negotiations would be based on the 1967 lines. Netanyahu had agreed to quietly halt construction in the West Bank while negotiations would take place, the source said.

What is the main goal of the peace talks?

The goal is still a two-state solution. The Palestinians want their own, independent state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Israel on the other hand worries about security and demands Palestine's demilitarization as well as control over its airspace and its external borders. Israel's military forces should be based along the Jordan Valley for decades. 

Two thirds of Israel's population are in favor of a two-state solution, a recent poll said. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has also repeatedly said he supports an independent, peaceful coexistent Palestine. But many members of Netanyahu's coalition openly reject a two-state solution.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo: REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool)

Netanyahu (right) has repeatedly stressed Israel's security needs

"It will come to a showdown once it's about enforcing concrete decisions," political analyst Hanan Chrystal said.

Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, also rejects a two-state solution. Abbas had no legitimate right to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Why are the 1967 lines so important for Palestinians?

Palestinians want to erect their state in those areas that have been occupied by Israelis in 1967. Israel has already left the Gaza Strip in 2005. In the last couple of years, the West Bank and East Jerusalem have been targeted by Jewish settlers though. By now, about 600,000 settlers are living on this land. These settlements run through Palestinian territory and cut right through it. They are illegal under international law. If Israel were to accept the 1967 lines, it would have to remove its settlements. 

What could be a solution to the settlement issue?

Israel does not want to give up its settlements. The Israeli government wants the settlements to be part of Israel. One possible solution would be to exchange land. Palestinian President Abbas has said he would be willing to accept this. Israel, however, has rejected this idea so far.

A Bedouin camp is seen near the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim (background) in the occupied West Bank on the outskirts of Jerusalem (photo: AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

If Israel were to accept the 1967 lines, it would need to leave its settlements behind

It is especially complicated when it comes to East Jerusalem that has been occupied by Israel. That piece of land is now home to 200,000 Israeli settlers. Israel sees Jerusalem as its "eternal and indivisible" capital. But the Palestinians want to make East Jerusalem the capital of their own state.

What will happen to Palestinian refugees?

Some five million Palestinians live in neighboring countries. Most of them are offspring of the 760,000 Palestinians who have fled in the course of Israel's creation in 1948. Palestinian leaders officially insist on the right to return for refugees and their offspring - also to Israeli territory. Jewish people in Israel would then no longer hold the majority. The Israeli government rejects the right to return. Refugees should live in a Palestinian state instead.

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