WASHINGTON, DC — After an “informal” dinner session that extended late into the Washington night on Monday, peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will resume in earnest Tuesday with a bilateral meeting, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday morning.
“After years of stalls in the talks and months of American engagement, it is time that we sit down and talk about our fate,” Livni said in an interview to Army Radio.
Speaking to a handful of reporters at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, Livni said that all issues would be on the table, but that in an effort to reestablish trust, the sides had agreed not to release any information about the actual content of the negotiations and would let US Secretary of State John Kerry fill the role of spokesman.
“In the past, both sides were also serious, and we started out that way, but then, after a while, we’d begin to see al-Jazeera reports with information,” Livni said. She emphasized throughout the conversation that both sides had made repeated commitments to adhere to a code of silence regarding substantive issues and progress of the negotiations.
“The basic principle of the talks is that nothing is over until everything is over,” said Livni, explaining that in that way neither side could claim to have made achievements at the other’s expense.
“Though we all know each other and have all been in the room before, we are not continuing talks, we are beginning talks,” said Livni. “The fact that we are familiar with the other side and the issues only aids in the talks.”
Asked whether the talks in Washington would lead to a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, Livni said that such a meeting was not a condition for continuing negotiations but that the time was ripe for it.
Livni continued by saying that solving the conflict is in Israel’s interests, and that it’s not a “favor” to the Palestinians or to the Americans.
“It’s very complicated and complex,” she said. “We are embarking on a journey that will doubtless take time. We will need to evaluate things down the road and see if it [a peace deal] is achievable, and how.”
Talks were set to resume for approximately three hours on Tuesday morning, with the last 45 minutes devoted to trilateral negotiations between Kerry, Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, after which they will deliver a joint press briefing. At this stage, the American, Israeli and Palestinian delegations are still working to hammer out the logistics and conditions for future rounds of talks, which are expected to take place in the region.
Peace talks kicked off informally in Washington Monday evening with an Iftar dinner, a traditional dinner marking the close of the daily fast during the month of Ramadan.
Livni described the mood at the dinner as “very good” and even friendly, emphasizing that both sides were “serious” and had learned from personal experience in earlier rounds of talks.
Earlier Monday, the State Department announced that Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to a nine-month timeline for final-status negotiations.
“This is the beginning of final-status arrangements on a nine-month timetable,” said State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki. She emphasized that the two sides “have agreed to a timetable” but that “it is not a deadline, but an agreement that they will work together for at least this period.”
In the hours before the dinner, Kerry briefed US President Barack Obama on the talks. The two regularly meet on Mondays, but State Department officials said that the upcoming negotiations were a “big part” of this Monday’s meeting.
The State Department plans for this current round of talks to conclude early Tuesday afternoon — a timeline that reinforces the sense that the Washington talks are meant merely to lay down a preliminary framework for future rounds.
Psaki complimented the Sunday Israeli Cabinet vote to approve the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, describing it as an “important step,” and said that the State Department understood that this was a difficult move for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
She deferred expressing an opinion on the implications of Israel’s National Referendum Law, requiring a referendum for any compromise involving Israel relinquishing sovereign territory. She said that “a referendum would be something that would happen at the end of the process” and that the Israelis and Palestinians would have to “work that out” should it become relevant. “First, let’s get to that point,” she added.
The State Department representative reinforced that it was not merely Kerry, but also Obama who was deeply involved in bringing about the current round of talks. “The president is very engaged in the process,” said Psaki.
Kerry himself noted Monday that “this effort began with President Obama’s historic trip to Israel and Ramallah in March of this year. And without his commitment, without his conversations there, and without his engagement in this initiative, we would not be here today. The president charged me directly with the responsibility to explore fully the possibility of resuming talks.”
Kerry also announced the appointment of former ambassador Martin Indyk to serve as US envoy for Mideast peace and the top American negotiator for the talks.
Kerry met with the Israeli delegates on their arrival in Washington early Monday, and then met with the Palestinian delegation immediately preceding the festive dinner.
Before the dinner, Livni and Indyk held a meeting at the Mayflower Hotel, the unofficial headquarters of the Israeli delegation.