The second round of talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams ended late Wednesday night, after five hours of discussion. A senior Israeli official said that the meeting was long and serious, and that the two sides scheduled a time for another meeting in the coming days.
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The meeting was attended by Israeli and Palestinian sides only, without the presence of American envoys. The Israeli official said that the two sides preferred to conduct the meeting without the Americans, and that they would inform U.S. envoy Martin Indyk of the details afterwards. According to the official, the Americans might participate in the next meeting, which will likely take place next week, in Jericho or Ramallah.
The meeting was conducted with a very low profile, without any photo opportunities, or statements to the media. According to the Israeli official, this was meant to allow the two sides to focus on talking, without adding pressure from the media. The only picture of the meeting was taken by the Government Press Office, and even the location of the meeting was kept secret and its exact start time of was kept under wraps until after it had already begun.
In attendance at the meeting, which commenced shortly before 7 P.M., were Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and the prime minister's representative, attorney Isaac Molho, on the Israeli side, while on the Palestinian side were chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and senior Fatah official Dr. Mohammed Shtayyeh.
During the meeting, the sides discussed overall guidelines for the negotiations and their agenda. Each side was also expected to present their positions on some of the issues.
The talks resumed despite vehement protest among the Palestinians over Israel's ongoing announcements that it will construct homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In a telephone conversation with Netanyahu and Livni on Tuesday, Kerry expressed U.S. concerns over the plans, saying they were not helpful to the negotiations with the Palestinians.
The Housing Ministry announced on Sunday it began marketing 1,200 housing units in East Jerusalem and the settlement blocs around the capital, after announcing last week the construction of hundreds of housing units in secluded settlements.
In mid-June, Netanyahu stated that in regards to construction, "we must be smart, not just right," and said that "settlement in the [West Bank and East Jerusalem] blocs does not significantly change our ability to reach an agreement – that is a false claim. The real question is whether there is or isn't a willingness [among the Palestinians] to accept a Jewish state."
On Tuesday, Israel began its release of 26 Palestinian prisoners to help underpin renewed peace talks, after its High Court rejected an appeal against their release by relatives of some of the Israelis they killed.
Netanyahu's cabinet approved the release nearly three weeks ago, in a vote of 13-7, with two abstentions. Before the vote, the PM urged rightists in his cabinet to back the deal.
"This moment is not easy for me," Netanyahu said, "is not easy for the cabinet ministers, and is not easy especially for the bereaved families, whose feelings I understand," he said when the cabinet met, referring to families who have lost members in terrorist attacks.
"But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the nation and this is one of those moments."