U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday set the wheels into motion for the first direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in almost three years, and appointed former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk as Washington's special Middle East peace envoy.
Kerry said he was seeking "reasonable compromises" in the tough negotiations. "Going forward, it is no secret this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago," Kerry said.
"It is no secret, therefore, that many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues," he added.
During the press conference, Kerry lauded Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, for their efforts to move the process forward.
He also told reporters that U.S. President Barack Obama has been involved in the bid to renew the negotiations, adding that the president's support has been instrumental. The process began with the president historic visit to Israel, Kerry said.
Obama later Monday issued a statement welcoming the renewal of talks, but cautioned that a tough path lies ahead. "This is a promising step forward, though hard work and hard choices remain ahead," Obama said in a statement.
"I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith and with sustained focus and determination," he said. "The United States stands ready to support them throughout these negotiations, with the goal of achieving two states, living side by side in peace and security."
Livni and Israeli envoy Isaac Molho landed in New York earlier Monday and met with UN Secretary General Bank Ki-moon to brief him on the process that led to the renewal of negotiations, to request his support in the peace process and to help prevent unilateral actions in the various UN agencies over the course of the talks.
The Israeli and Palestinian teams will meet in Washington on Monday night and then participate in an Iftar dinner that breaks the Ramadan fast, to be held at the State Department.
The Iftar dinner will be relatively informal and is intended primarily to establish a friendly atmosphere. However, a senior Israeli official noted that the parties will begin discussing the agenda for negotiations during dinner.
Before heading to Washington on Monday evening, Livni told the Associated Press that "the idea is to start the negotiations today."
"There is a lot of cynicism and skepticism and pessimism but there is alsohope," Livni said."I believe that by relaunching the negotiations we can recreate hope forIsraelis and Palestinians as well."
The delegations will also meet with Kerry again in the State Department building Tuesday to continue talks on the principles for conducting the negotiations, the issues up for discussion and a timetable for further meetings. At the end of the day, a joint press statement will be read out by the secretary of state that will officially declare the start of negotiations.
Both Netanyahu and Abbas approved of the choice of Indyk to the position of Middle East envoy, whose appointment was revealed earlier this month. Indyk will accompany the peace talks as they progress, Kerry said on Monday, after officially introducing him as the new U.S. envoy, and naming adviser Frank Lowenstein as Indyk's deputy
"Indyk is realistic," Kerry said, . "He understands that peace will not come overnight but that there is a sense of urgency."
Accepting the task, Indyk said, "Middle East peace is a daunting challenge but one that I can't run away from." He then added: "Peace is possible."
Indyk, born to a Jewish family in London and raised in Australia, currently serves as vice president and director for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. During the time of the Clinton administration he served two terms as ambassador to Israel, and was assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs.
Indyk has remained in contact throughout the years with both Netanyahu and Abbas, and has made it a habit to meet with both leaders when he visits Israel.
Indyk concluded his acceptance speech on Monday by telling reporters that 15 years ago, when his son was a teenager, the boy made him a screensaver asking whether peace had come to the Middle East. Until now, Indyk said, his answer has been negative, adding that now there was hope that this could soon change.
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