Obama Meets Israeli and Palestinian Negotiating Teams at White House

Justice Minister Livni, chief Palestinian negotiator Erekat to hold joint press conference after meeting again with U.S. Secretary of State Kerry.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

U.S. President Barack Obama is stepping up his personal involvement in American efforts to advance the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Obama is holding a joint meeting at the White House with both Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, in which he is expected to call on them to exhibit good will and to remain focused and steadfast throughout the talks.

Obama, who has largely refrained from speaking out on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks over the past four months, released a statement on Monday praising the two sides for returning to the table. "This is a promising step forward, though hard work and hard choices remain ahead," he said.

The negotiations began at 3 P.M. (8 A.M. Washington time), as U.S. special envoy for Middle East peace, Martin Indyk, met with the negotiating teams at the State Department in Washington. From there the two teams departed for the White House, for their meeting with President Obama.

Directly after the meeting with Obama, the teams are to continue to their next meeting – with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – back at the State Department. The meeting is expected to last some 45 minutes. At around 6:00 P.M., the parties will hold a press conference, during which Kerry, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat will make statements.

The two negotiation teams dined together for roughly two hours at the State Department on Monday night, breaking the Ramadan fast. Prior to the meal, Kerry met separately with each of the sides for roughly 45 minutes apiece.

Livni and Israeli envoy Isaac Molho joined the meal from the Israeli team, while Erekat and his No. 2 Mohammed Shtayyeh represented the Palestinian delegation. They were joined by Kerry, Martin Indyk, the newly appointed U.S. envoy for Middle East peace and former U.S. ambassador to Israel, as well as Obama's adviser on Middle East affairs, Phil Gordon.

The Americans set the table, and sat on one side, while the Israelis and Palestinians sat together on the other side, in an effort to break the ice between the sides. The meal included corn and bean soup, grouper fish, saffron risotto, steamed vegetables, and apricot cake.

"It's very very special to have you here," Kerry told his guests from Jerusalem and Ramallah, quipping, "There's not very much to talk about at all."

State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said the talks were "good and constructive." Livni made similar remarks during an interview with Army Radio on Monday morning. "The atmosphere was positive," she said. "All of the issues are on the table, but we decided that what is said in the negotiating room will stay there."

Kerry, center, meets with Livni, left, and Erekat in Washington, July 29, 2013.Credit: AFP
U.S. President Barack ObamaCredit: AP

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