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 three will meet first informally on Monday, possibly in Kerry’s home, before holding a largely symbolic opening round Tuesday of the renewed peace talks, which are expected to last about nine months, Channel 2 reported. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal envoy Yitzhak Molcho is also expected to participate in the talks.
The State Department said Sunday that the two sides had accepted invitations from Kerry to come to Washington “to formally resume direct final status negotiations.”
In a statement, department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry had called both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian 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.”
“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 five-year break. However, he warned that the agreement was still being formalized.
Sunday’s carefully worded statement offered no details of the framework for the resumption of the talks that broke down five years ago, 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, after a near-three year hiatus, 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.