The Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams met Tuesday evening for their third round of peace talks since direct negotiations resumed last month after a three-year hiatus.
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking to a delegation from Israel's Jewish-Arab Hadash party earlier Tuesday, said that the Palestinians were embarking on the negotiations seriously and that if Israel kept an honest position it would be possible to reach an agreement.
Hadash chairman MK Mohammed Barakeh, who led the Israeli delegation on Tuesday to Ramallah, told Haaretz that despite the low expectations on both sides, the Palestinian president stressed his intention to see the process through to the end. Abbas also told the delegation that progress was made during talks held in the past and that he therefore believes it’s possible to find solutions to all the core issues.
“I know how to read the political map in Israel, and this time, Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu can’t claim he doesn’t have a majority to pass an agreement in the Knesset,” Barakeh quoted Abbas as saying. “The agreement will pass this Knesset by a huge majority if Netanyahu wants it to.”
Abbas also told Barakeh that recent events in the Middle East ought to increase both sides’ motivation to make progress in the talks, because an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is one of the keys to regional stability.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the two sides in Washington to officially kick off the negotiations last month, after spending months engaging in shuttle diplomacy between the two sides before they agreed to return to the table ending a three-year freeze in negotiations.
Special U.S. envoy Martin Indyk was expected to join the talks in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening. The second round of talks, which lasted five hours, was held just between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators without American presence.
That meeting dealt mainly with technical matters such as how the talks should be conducted and what order issues should be discussed. At that session, Israel resubmitted its “21 Points” document, first presented in Amman two years ago. That document contains the main issues that Israel wants discussed during the talks, but does not specify its position on the matters.
Six of these are considered core issues: borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and water. Others are derivatives of the core issues, such as control of airspace, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and the demand that any agreement end the conflict and all mutual claims.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Israel Radio on Tuesday morning, Tzipi Livni told Israeli Radio that Jerusalem would have to make some "dramatic decisions" to reach a final peace agreement that will end the conflict with the Palestinians. refused to comment on talks, saying that holding negotiations far from the media is meant to build trust between the two sides. But she predicted there would be "dramatic decisions in the end," and lamented the lack of support from hardline elements in the coalition.
Livni also told Israel Radio that hawkish parties in the coalition were making the talks more difficult because of their opposition to establishment of a Palestinian state, the centerpiece of any peace deal.
"It is no secret that in this coalition there is at least one party ... who objects to the idea of two states for two peoples, which is something I support with all my heart," Livni said, referring to but not naming Economy Minister Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi party. "It is definitely very problematic in regard to the negotiations," she said.
Habayit Hayehudi, the coalition's third largest, is allied with the settler movement and objects to conceding territory to the Palestinians.
Livni also berated the dovish Labor party for declining the prime minister's offer to join the coalition after elections early this year. She said their refusal paved the way for the current hawkish coalition. She said it would be easier if there was "a more solid majority in the government to the [peace] process and decisions."
Livni and the prime minister’s representative, attorney Isaac Molho, are heading the Israeli negotiating team, while the Palestinian side is being led by Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh.