U.S. invites Israeli, Palestinian leaders to direct peace talks in Washington

09:49, August 21, 2010      

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced on Friday the United States has invited the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders to launch Middle East peace direct talks on Sept. 2 in Washington D.C..

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes a statement to the press at the State Department in Washington D.C., capital of the United States, Aug. 20, 2010. Hillary announced on Friday the United States has invited Israel and the Palestinians to launch Middle East peace direct talks on Sept. 2 in Washington D.C. (Xinhua/Zhang Jun)

"I have invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet on Sept. 2 in Washington D.C. to relaunch direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues," Clinton said at a State Department special press briefing, joined by U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell.

Clinton said that the peace negotiations can be completed within one year, adding the talks should start without precondition.

She also said U.S. President Barack Obama has invited Jordanian King Abdullah and Egyptian President Mubarak to attend, "in view of their critical role in this effort."

Clinton said President Obama will hold bilateral meetings with the four Middle East leaders, followed by a dinner with them on Sept. 1. The Quartet representative, former British prime minister Tony Blair, has also been invited to the dinner.

"There have been difficulties in the past. There will be difficult times ahead. Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles, " said Clinton, admitting the process will be tough.

Meanwhile, the Middle East Quartet, namely the United Nations, Russia, the U.S., and the European Union, issued a statement on Friday.

In the statement, the Quartet said all the direct, bilateral negotiations should "lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors."

The Quartet also stated the peace talks can be completed within one year.

The United States has been pressuring the Palestinians and Israelis to start direct peace talks by September, deeming it the only way to strike a peace deal.

Netanyahu said he is ready to sit down face-to-face with the Palestinians but refuses to accept any precondition.

However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he will not jump to direct talks, which halted in 2008, before achieving progress on security and border issues.

Recently, Abbas has indicated he could go to direct talks if they were based on a Quartet March statement, which called for establishing the Palestinian state based on borders that existed before 1967, setting a time frame for negotiations and suspending all Israeli settlement activities.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was apparently placated by Clinton's "no precondition" remarks, hailed on Friday the U.S. invitation immediately after her announcement.

The Palestinian side on Friday welcomed Quartet's statement and Abbas has called for an urgent meeting for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to respond to the U.S. call.

Although the direct talks are believed to be underway soon, the prospects of the peace process remains murky.

"It will be difficult, as the number of issues between both sides are many. But the fact that direct talks are taking place is a step in the right direction," Andrew Tabler, a Middle East expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Xinhua.

It is hoped that the resumption of direct negotiations can give Netanyahu's central-right coalition some ground to extend Israel's 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement constructions which expires on Sept. 26. Abbas has feared all efforts would be wasted if the settlement building started after direct talks began.

"I think the U.S. administration has developed much better ties with Israel over the last few months, which would help avert past announcements of settlements at unexpected times that could be detrimental to diplomacy," said Tabler.

Starting the direct talks in Washington marks a temporary but important success for Obama who has put Middle East peace process among his diplomatic priorities and spent more than a year bringing the two sides together.

"He believes progress on Arab-Israeli peace helps to sweep the rug out from under Iran and other actors in the region detrimental to U.S.," he said.

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