DonLever Posted July 28, 2013 Share Posted July 28, 2013 Israelis and Palestinians to Resume Peace Talks By MICHAEL R. GORDON WASHINGTON — Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will resume peace talks here on Monday night, the State Department said in a statement on Sunday afternoon. It will be the first time that the two have held direct talks since 2010. The meeting followed an intensive effort to revive the moribund talks by Secretary of State John Kerry, which included six trips to the Middle East. Mr. Kerry spoke on Sunday with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to formally invite them to send their negotiating teams to Washington. “Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point,” Mr. Kerry said in a statement. “We are grateful for their leadership.” The first meeting is planned for Monday evening, and negotiators are also planning to meet on Tuesday. The Israeli side will be represented by Israel’s justice minister, Tzipi Livni, and Yitzhak Molcho. Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh will represent the Palestinian side. The initial meetings will focus on developing a “procedural work plan” on how to conduct the talks in the coming months, the statement said. Mr. Netanyahu worked over the weekend to convince Israelis that a resumption of the peace process was vital to the country’s interest. The last obstacle to resuming peace talks was cleared earlier on Sunday when the Israeli cabinet voted to approve the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners. The prisoner release is unpopular with many Israelis, but one insisted upon by the Palestinian leadership. The prisoners, most of whom have served at least 20 years for deadly attacks on Israelis, are to be released in batches depending upon progress in the talks. Mr. Netanyahu will lead a team of five ministers who will oversee the release. He deferred any decision on whether Arab citizens of Israel would be among the prisoners released, a longstanding point of dispute, saying that would be brought to another cabinet vote. A Palestinan official involved in the negotiations process, who could speak only on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks, said earlier that the first group was expected to be released in August, and the rest within six months. “This moment is not easy for me,” Mr. Netanyahu said, according to a statement from his office. “It is not easy for the ministers. It is not easy especially for the families, the bereaved families, whose heart I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country, and this is one of those moments.” Mr. Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, described the decision in a statement as “an overdue step toward the implementation of the Sharm el-Sheik agreement of 1999.” “We welcome this decision, 14 years later,” he said. As the cabinet meeting got under way, scores of Israeli protesters gathered outside the prime minister’s office, including people whose relatives were killed in terrorist acts. The protesters carried signs bearing the names and portraits of some of the victims. “It rips our heart out that they are aiding and abetting the terrorists,” said one, Yehudit Tayar. On Saturday evening, Mr. Netanyahu took the unusual step of issuing what he called “an open letter to the citizens of Israel” to explain the contentious move. The letter gave no details about who would be released or when. Mr. Netanyahu began his letter, which was posted on the prime minister’s Web site and disseminated through the Israeli news media, with an acknowledgment of the unpopularity of the gesture, which many Israelis view as a painful concession with nothing guaranteed in return. The letter noted that the decision “is painful for the bereaved families, it is painful for the entire nation, and it is also very painful for me — it collides with the incomparably important value of justice.” On Friday, Yediot Aharonot, an Israeli newspaper, published an impassioned open letter to Mr. Netanyahu from Abie Moses, whose pregnant wife and 5-year-old son, Tal, were fatally burned in a firebomb attack on their car in April 1987. Mr. Moses said that faced with the likely release of their killer, Mohammad Adel Hassin Daoud, “the wounds have reopened; the memories, which we live with on a daily basis, turn into physical pain, in addition to the emotional pain of coping daily with the nightmare.” Mr. Moses added, “In our opinion, if his release will lead to attaining of peace, let him be released outside the boundaries of Palestine, exiled and never allowed to see his family members again, just as we cannot see ours.” Over the years, thousands of Palestinian prisoners have been exchanged for Israeli soldiers who had been taken captive, or for the bodies of abducted soldiers. During his previous term in office, Mr. Netanyahu reached an agreement with Hamas, the Islamist militant group that governs Gaza, and exchanged more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who had been held captive in Gaza for five years. An Israeli government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said many of those who remained in Israeli jails, like the 104 now chosen for early release, had been involved in particularly gruesome acts. “The goal here is to augment the political dialogue with confidence-building measures,” the official said. The prisoner issue is the one that has inflamed passions on both sides. Palestinians view these long-serving prisoners, convicted before the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993, as political prisoners and freedom fighters whose release is long overdue. “This is the biggest achievement we will have had this year,” the Palestinian official said. Alyza Sebenius and Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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