U.S. Sees Washington Peace Talks as Start of Year-long Process

Washington officials and analysts express cautious optimism about direct peace talks, predicting 'vigorous' negotiations.

The Obama administration on Monday described the Middle East talks set for later this week as the "launch of a vigorous process" that could reach agreement within a year.

"While the parameters of an ultimate, comprehensive peace agreement are well known, we do not expect to achieve peace in one meeting," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters.

"But I think we want to see the launch of a vigorous process that will involve significant involvement by the leaders themselves, as well as regular interaction with their respective negotiating teams, including the full participation of the United States, supported by other countries in the region and around the world," he added.

Crowley said that the administration thinks it can reach agreement "within a one-year time frame."

The Obama administration believes that an agreement can be reached within a one-year time frame. "That is what our goal is," Crowley reiterated on Monday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is holding preparatory meetings with officials ahead of the official start of direct peace talks on September 1. She is expected to meet with Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit and Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman on Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Mideast envoy George Mitchell

The White House on Monday said it expects both Israel and the Palestinians to show they are "serious about a comprehensive peace."

"That is not to say that it is going to be in any way easy," spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Monday. "This has been tried over the past more than three decades a number of times, and I think it's going to take some time to get through the issues that have stood in the way of that for those three decades."

Others in Washington were also cautiously optimistic on Monday, with some doubting that the one-year timeframe was realistic.

“No one should get into this feeling that’s going to be a magic bullet," B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin told Haaretz.

"I have doubts that it’s going to be accomplished in one year, but there is an old cliché that the proof will be in the pudding," Mariaschin said. "We always have to remain hopeful because we all want to see resolution of this conflict and breakthrough…but we are careful about the expectations and demands."

Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller, meanwhile, said that while a quick, decisive outcome may not be possible, it is more important to keep proper perspective on the negotiations.

“After 20 months of flapping around, bringing together Israelis and Palestinians under a very difficult circumstances, knowing that they can negotiate under great constraint in what could nevertheless be a serious negotiations – that is the proper perspective," Miller told Haaretz.

However, he said, two questions need to be posed: "First - are Abbas and Netanyahu prepared to make really tough decisions on the core issues – security, borders, refugees, Jerusalem? Is Netanyahu prepared to give more than he indicated publicly, and is President Abbas ready to get down from his tree? Second, are they ready to take into account that the outcome has to be based on the balance of interests?"

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, said that only his Likud party can forge real and lasting peace with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu on Monday said that any future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will be based on two things: the acceptance of the Jewish people's right to a homeland, and effective security arrangements on the ground.