US: Palestinians agreed to talks; Indyk reports premature

State Department spokeswoman sets record straight on progress ahead of new Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a press conference at Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan on Friday, July 19, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Mandel Ngan, Pool)
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a press conference at Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan on Friday, July 19, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Mandel Ngan, Pool)

The State Department confirmed on Monday that the Palestinians agreed to participate in new peace talks with Israel, dismissing comments to the contrary made over the weekend by spokesmen for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Spokeswoman Jen Psaki also dispelled weekend rumors that veteran diplomat Martin Indyk had already been tapped to lead the new negotiations. Psaki said that Secretary of State John Kerry is still “putting together the right combination of players,” but denied that any decision on negotiators or envoys has been made.

In a press briefing, the State Department spokeswoman rejected claims that the Palestinians were not on board with the proposed talks. Psaki said firmly that there was “an agreement between parties to resume final status negotiations.” She said that the contradictory nature of statements by Palestinian sources meant that some of the reports were necessarily false.

In Monday’s briefing, Psaki described Kerry’s Friday announcement as “a very important first step” and she emphasized that “right now we are pursuing the way forward. There had been a great deal of work, compromise and sacrifice leading to this point.

“There are only a limited number of parties who know the true details of what was agreed,” she continued, emphasizing that the American position remains the same as outlined by President Barack Obama in his 2011 Mideast policy speech.

In that speech, Obama said that “negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine … based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” He said that the Palestinian state must be “sovereign and contiguous” and that “Israel must be able to defend itself” with “provisions … robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security.” He called for a withdrawal of the IDF from Palestinian territories coordinated “with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state” in accordance with an agreed-upon timeline for the transition period and with security benchmarks.

The Friday deal, Psaki said, “came together at the 11th hour” and there remained “elements that still have to be finalized.” She said that the initial talks will not, however, simply be procedural, acknowledging that although “it would be natural that they would discuss everything from an agenda to the process moving forward,” both sides also want “substantive” talks.

The spokeswoman confirmed that the talks were going to be held in Washington, and were expected to begin in the next two weeks. Kerry will be directly involved in the Washington negotiations, but is currently still scheduled to be in New York on a visit to the United Nations on Friday. Psaki emphasized, however, that Kerry’s visit to the UN will be a “day trip,” leaving him available for potential weekend talks.

The State Department could neither confirm nor deny claims made in the Israeli media that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked for — and been refused — the release of Jonathan Pollard as a condition for the release of Palestinian prisoners. Psaki did, however, clarify that Jordan would not be directly involved in the Washington talks either independently or as a representative of the Arab peace initiative.

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