Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams arrived at the State Department building in Washington Monday night after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry set the wheels in motion for the first direct peace talks in almost three years.
The negotiating teams began talks over the traditional Iftar dinner to break the Ramadan fast, hosted at the State Department building by Kerry. He will give the first press conference on renewed negotiations on Tuesday at 6:00 P.M. local time.
The Iftar dinner was relatively informal and was intended primarily to establish a friendly atmosphere. However, a senior Israeli official noted that the parties would begin discussing the agenda for negotiations during dinner.
During a press conference earlier Monday, 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.
Speaking from Cairo where he was meeting with Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour, Abbas said that no Israeli settlers or border forces could remain in a future Palestinian state and that Palestinians deem illegal all Jewish settlement building beyond the Green Line.
"In a final solution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli - civilian or soldier - on our lands," Abbas said in a briefing to mostly Egyptian journalists" .An international, multinational presence like in Sinai, Lebanon and Syria - we are with that," he said, referring to United Nations peacekeeping operations in those places
Before heading to Washington, 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 also hope," Livni said."I believe that by relaunching the negotiations we can recreate hope fo rIsraelis and Palestinians as well."
The delegations will meet with Kerry again Tuesday to continue talks on the issues up for discussion and a timetable for further meetings. At the end of the day, a joint press statement is expected to be read by the secretary of state, amrking the official start of negotiations.
Kerry also appointed former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk as Washington's special Middle East peace envoy.
Both Netanyahu and Abbas approved of the choice of Indyk, 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."
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