Israel-Palestinian peace talks to restart Monday, State Department says

Kerry calls Netanyahu and Abbas; brief first round of negotiations in Washington may coincide with release of first group of long-time security prisoners

John Kerry and Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem in March 2013. (photo credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy/Flash90)
John Kerry and Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem in March 2013. (photo credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy/Flash90)

Hours after helping approve a prisoner release that will pave the way for the opening of peace talks, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was slated to fly to Washington Sunday night to hold a lightning round of initial negotiations with the Palestinians.

Livni, who is tasked with heading Israel’s negotiation team, will meet in Washington with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The State Department announced Sunday that the two sides had accepted invitations from Kerry to come to Washington “to formally resume direct final status negotiations.” Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the initial meetings would begin Monday evening and continue Tuesday.

Kerry called both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday and said they agreed that the talks would “serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months.”

“The Israelis will be represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and [Netanyahu emissary] Yitzhak Molcho, and the Palestinians will be represented by Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh,” the State Department said.

“Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point,” Kerry said in the statement. “We are grateful for their leadership.”

Kerry had announced on July 19 in Amman, Jordan, that negotiators from the two sides would be coming to Washington in a “week or so” after having agreed on a basis for resuming negotiations after a hiatus of almost three years.

Sunday’s carefully worded statement offered no details of the framework for the resumption of the talks, although both sides’ positions are well known.

On Wednesday, Livni is to head back home for vital Knesset votes on the state budget.

The path was cleared to the resumption of the talks when the Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved the release 104 Palestinian security prisoners, a central Palestinian demand.

The prisoners, some of whom are serving life sentences for deadly terror attacks, are to be released in several phases, contingent on the progress of negotiations.

The first group of prisoners is to be released this week, in line with the negotiations in Washington, according to an unconfirmed report in the Ynet news outlet.

Sunday’s cabinet decision excluded more than a dozen Israeli-Arab pre-1993 convicts, however. Some Palestinian officials said Sunday that this could yet hamstring the new talks.

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