Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images
US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) leaves the West Wing of the White House with chief negotiators, Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni (2ndR) and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat(R) and others, after a meeting with US President Barack Obama July 30, 2013 in Washington, DC.
After the initial round of long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday he is convinced a permanent deal can be reached between the two, but warned the road ahead will be difficult.
Kerry announced that representatives from the two sides will meet again in Israel or Palestinian territories within the next two weeks. The goal, Kerry said, is to reach a peace deal in the next nine months.
“I’m convinced we can get there,” Kerry said. He said over the past day all sides have had “constructive, positive meetings.”
At the press conference, Kerry was flanked by the two chief negotiators for both sides. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is representing Israel, while the Palestinians have been represented by Saeb Erekat, an aide to President Mahmoud Abbas.
“We all know it is not going to be easy, it is going to be hard with ups and downs,” said Livni. “But I can assure you that with these negotiations, it is not our intention to argue about the past, but to create solutions and make decisions for the future.”
Erekat said it is time for the people of Palestine to have their own state to live “in peace, freedom and dignity within their own sovereign state.”
“Palestinians have suffered enough, and no one benefits more from the success of this endeavor more than Palestinians,” he said.
Kerry said that all sides have agreed to put everything on the negotiating table, including the contentious issue of borders between Israel and a potentially new Palestinian state. The head of the State Department also said that much of the negotiations will be done out of the public eye, and he will be the only authority to release information about the ongoing talks.
“We all understand the goal that we are working toward -- two states living side-by-side in peace and security. Two states, because two proud people’s each deserve a country to call their own,” said Kerry.
Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama met with Palestinian and Israeli representatives for about 20 minutes at the White House. Kerry and newly appointed U.S. envoy to the peace talks Martin Indyk also attended the meeting.
Obama’s involvement in the peace process is expected to be rare, with most of the heavy lifting being left to Kerry, who has spent much of his energy during his first months as America’s chief diplomat working to get Israeli and Palestinian leaders back to the negotiating table.
On Monday, Kerry spent about 45 minutes meeting separately with Israeli and Palestinian representatives at the State Department before all sides sat down for an Iftar dinner, a meal which breaks the day of fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Five U.S. officials, including Kerry and Indyk, lined one side of the table, seated across from two Israeli and two Palestinian negotiators.
"We're happy to welcome you. It's really wonderful to have you here -- very, very special. We have, obviously, not much to talk about at all," Kerry said before the meal.
The State Department called the meal "constructive and productive" but would not divulge the contents of the conversation.
Before Monday, the most recent peace negotiations broke down in 2010 over Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, which it captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians have said a future state must include the boundaries of those territories before the war.
On Sunday, Israel’s cabinet approved the release of 104 Arab prisoners, paving the way to restart peace talks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas demanded the release of the prisoners before any peace negotiations could resume.
They will be released in stages over several months, based on the progress of the talks.
Shortly after the Israeli cabinet vote, the State Department announced representatives from both sides would be travelling to Washington for the initial round of what U.S. officials hope will result in an agreement that helps bring to a close the decades-old conflict.
“We can envision a day when Palestinians can finally realize their aspirations of a flourishing state of their own…We can also envision a day when Israelis actually can truly live in peace,” Kerry said Tuesday. “Not just the absence of conflict, but a full and a lasting peace with Arab and Muslim nations, and end once and for all the pernicious attacks on Israel’s legitimacy.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published July 30 2013, 10:51 AM