Kerry says Israel, Palestinians lay groundwork for peace talks

- Israel and the
Palestinians have laid the groundwork for
resuming peace talks after an almost three-
year stalemate, U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry said on Friday, although he cautioned
the deal was not final and required more
diplomacy.
Kerry, winding up his sixth Middle East
brokering mission this year, gave few details.
He anticipated Israeli and Palestinian envoys
would come to Washington soon for what a
U.S. official said would mark the launch of
direct negotiations.
"I am pleased to announce that we have
reached an agreement that establishes a
basis for resuming direct final-status
negotiations between the Palestinians and
the Israelis," Kerry told reporters in Amman.
"The best way to give these negotiations a
chance is to keep them private," he said,
saying that the deal was still being
"formalized" and he would therefore not
discuss it in detail.
"We know that the challenges require some
very tough choices in the days ahead," he
added. "Today, however, I am hopeful."
Peacemaking has ebbed and flowed for two
decades, last breaking down in late 2010
over Israel's settlements in the occupied
West Bank and East Jerusalem, where, along
with the Gaza Strip, Palestinians seek
statehood.
The Palestinians, with international backing,
have said that state must have borders
approximating the territories' boundaries
before Israel captured them in the 1967
Middle East War - a demand hard to reconcile
with the Jewish state's insistence on keeping
swathes of settlements under any eventual
peace accord.
Israeli and Palestinian officials cautiously
welcomed Kerry's announcement. Both sides
face hardline opposition at home to
compromise in a stubborn conflict of turf and
faith.
"I know that as soon as the negotiations
start, they will be complex and not easy,"
Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Cabinet minister in
charge of the diplomatic drive, wrote on
Facebook. "But I am convinced with all my
heart that it is the right thing to do for our
future, our security, our economy and the
values of Israel."
Wasel Abu Youssef, a senior member of the
umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation,
told Reuters: "The announcement today did
not mean the return to negotiations. It
meant efforts would continue to secure the
achievement of Palestinian demands.... Israel
must recognize the 1967 borders."
Kerry said that Livni and Palestinian
negotiator Saeb Erekat could travel to
Washington "within the next week or so, and
a further announcement will be made by all
of us at that time".
Asked if that meeting of envoys would be
considered the start of negotiations, a U.S.
official said, "Yes."
MONTHS OF TALKS
The talks would take months to unfold, an
Israeli and a Palestinian official told Reuters
on condition of anonymity. Such a duration,
the Israeli official said, was needed "to
ensure the process is substantive and
comprehensive, and to get us past
September."
That referred to the annual U.N. General
Assembly, where the Palestinians had
planned to seek recognition for their
statehood claim in the absence of direct
engagement with the Israelis.
The United Nations welcomed Kerry's
announcement in a statement that called it a
positive development, but it also urged both
sides to "show leadership, courage, and
responsibility to sustain this effort towards
achieving the two-state vision."
Netanyahu, a right-winger, has long balked
at withdrawing to the 1967 lines, and his
coalition government includes a nationalist-
religious faction opposed to any settlement
removal.
But another coalition partner, centrist
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, told Israel's top-
rated Channel Two television, "There is a
solid majority in this Cabinet for going to
negotiations."
Abbas' own authority is in question. While his
U.S.-backed administration holds sway in the
West Bank, Gaza is governed by rival Hamas
Islamists who reject permanent co-existence
with the Jewish state.
"Abbas does not have the legitimacy to
negotiate on fateful issues on behalf of the
Palestinian people," Hamas spokesman Sami
Abu Zuhri said.
Kerry's announcement, on the Jewish Sabbath
evening and as Muslims ended their daily
Ramadan fast, may have been meant in part
to deflect domestic scrutiny from Netanyahu
and Abbas.
Kerry commended the two for their
"courageous leadership."
"Both of them have chosen to make difficult
choices here, and both of them were
instrumental in pushing in this direction. We
wouldn't be standing here tonight if they
hadn't made the choices," he said.
Kerry's drive to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian
peace talks was endorsed this week by the
Arab League, which potentially holds out the
prospect of a broader regional peace with
Israel upon the establishment of a
Palestinian state.
The Arab League's own peace proposals,
launched over a decade ago, foundered on
the issue of a return to 1967 borders, but it
confirmed on Wednesday it had shifted its
position to countenance "limited exchange of
territory of the same value and size."
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Amman,
Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Nidal al-Mughrabi in
Gaza, and Lesley Wroughton in Washington;
Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Will
Waterman, Peter Cooney, Doina Chiacu)