Clinton: Israelis, Palestinians will come back to negotiating table next month

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday formally announced that Israeli and Palestinian leaders would resume direct peace negotiations in Washington early next month.

The talks will be the first between the parties in nearly two years, giving a boost to President Obama’s stalled efforts to forge a lasting and elusive accord in the Middle East.

ADVERTISEMENT
In a brief appearance at the State Department, Clinton said she had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to meet in Washington on Sept. 2. Obama will participate in the talks, and the leaders of Egypt and Jordan have also been invited, Clinton said.

The goal will be the establishment of a two-state solution and “to resolve all final status issues, which we believe can be completed within one year,” Clinton said.

Clinton and Middle East special envoy George Mitchell announced the negotiations without fanfare, and, wary of the fraught history of efforts to end the conflict, made no bold predictions of success.

“There have been difficulties in the past; there will be difficulties ahead,” Clinton warned. “Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles. The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks, but I ask the parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times, and to keep working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region.”

The secretary said the talks should take place “without preconditions” and warned both Israelis and Palestinians to take actions “that help advance our cause, not to hinder it.”

The Middle East Quartet — comprising the U.S., the U.N., Russia and the European Union — issued a statement Friday blessing the talks. “The Quartet expresses its determination to support the parties throughout the negotiations, which can be completed within one year, and the implementation of an agreement,” the statement said. “The Quartet again calls on both sides to observe calm and restraint, and to refrain from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric.”

The Quartet’s chief representative, former British prime minister Tony Blair, is expected to attend the talks in Washington next month.

At the State Department. Clinton spoke for about three minutes and left without taking questions — a move that prevented her from having to address reports that the U.S. has told Israel that Iran’s development of nuclear capability is not imminent. Clinton also avoided inevitable queries about the proposal to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero, which the former New York senator has yet to address.

Mitchell stayed to take questions, and said “all permanent status issues will be on the table.” He said the consent by Netanyahu and Abbas to restart negotiations was the result of cumulative efforts over the past several months and “a recognition by the parties that this is the right time.” He did not refer to the moratorium on Israel building settlements in the West Bank, which is set to end on Sept. 26.

He said U.S. opposition to the settlements remained unchanged. The talks will begin without widespread optimism about their success, due to the internal political pressures the right-leaning Netanyahu faces in Israel and to the obstacle posed by Hamas’s control of the Gaza Strip.

Asked what role Hamas would play in the negotiations, Mitchell replied: “None.”

“We are all well aware that there remains mistrust between the parties,” he said.

Decisions about the timeline of talks and the location of negotiations beyond the September launch in Washington would be made by the parties, Mitchell said. He said the United States would be involved and would offer “bridging proposals” upon request, but that the talks were principally between Israel and the Palestinians.

In referencing the often-dim prospects for success, Mitchell repeatedly made mention of the breakthrough he helped negotiate in Northern Ireland in the mid-1990s, an effort that he said “was repeatedly branded a failure.”

In Northern Ireland, Mitchell said, “We had 700 days of failure and one day of success.”

“Past efforts at Middle East peace that did not succeed cannot deter us from trying again,” he said.

Several groups from across the Israeli-Palestinian divide issued statements welcoming the talks, including the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee and the left-leaning J Street. The Arab League has endorsed the direct dialogue, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the American Task Force on Palestine also voiced their approval Friday.

This post was updated at 4:30 p.m.