Palestinian, Israel leaders agreed to a series of direct talks on Thursday, seeking to forge the framework for a U.S.-backed peace deal within a year and end a conflict that has boiled for six decades.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have agreed to meet in the region on Sept. 14-15 and to hold talks every two weeks thereafter, U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell said on Thursday.
Diplomats said that meeting will take place in Egypt.
The two sides agreed to meet every two weeks thereafter, U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell said.
"We are convinced that if you move forward in good faith and do not waver in your commitment to succeed on behalf of your people, we can resolve all of the core issues within one year," Clinton told Abbas and Netanyahu as the talks began.
"You have the opportunity to end this conflict and the decades of enmity between your peoples once and for all."
The two leaders shook hands after the formal start of the talks in an ornate State Department reception room, marking the resumption of direct dialogue that last broke off in 2008.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted the first session of talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
President Barack Obama has set a goal of striking a deal within 12 months to create an independent Palestinian state that exists peacefully, side-by-side with the Jewish state.
After a day of weighty symbolism and lofty rhetoric at preparatory meetings with President Barack Obama at the White House, Netanyahu and Abbas began sharpening their points and presenting opening demands.
"We expect you to be prepared to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people," Netanyahu told Abbas, as the two sat on either side of Clinton with their national flags behind them.
The Palestinians fear recognition of the Jewish state would undermine the right-of-return of Palestinian refugees who fled attacks from Jewish militants in 1948.
Abbas again called on Israel to end the blockade of the Gaza Strip and stop illegal settlement expansion.
"We call on the Israeli government to move forward with its commitment to end all settlement activity and completely lift the embargo over the Gaza Strip," Abbas said.
The talks may hit their first road block when Israel's partial freeze on building new illegal settlements on the occupied West Bank is set to expire on Sept. 26.
Abbas has said he will pull out of the talks unless Israel extends the moratorium.
Abbas on Thursday again told Netanyahu he would pull out of talks if settlement construction resumed, a senior Palestinian official said.
"We'll try our best, but that will all be torpedoed if Mr. Netanyahu goes back to settlements," Palestinian adviser Nabil Shaath told Reuters.
But Netanyahu has appeared refusal to extend the building moratorium.
But Earlier, Netanyahu's office said there had been no change to Israeli policy, which would allow a current partial freeze on West Bank settlement building to expire at the end of this month.
The Palestinians see the settlements as land grab to halt a homeland on the occupied Palestinian lands.
Major world powers regard the settlements as illegal and a threat to peace.
Mitchell said both sides agreed the talks were sensitive and would therefore release little information about details. He declined to offer specifics when asked if the settlement issue had been discussed.
But Mitchell -- who has spent months shuttling between the two sides to coax them into talks -- said they agreed the first step would be to work up a "framework agreement" to establish the parameters of a deal.
Rather than specifying the precise lines of a border, such an agreement would lay out main issues -- presumably including the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees -- in brief terms.
Obama, convening the talks ahead of the pivotal November U.S. congressional elections, met both leaders at the White House on Wednesday and later urged them not to let the chance for peace slip.
Related news reports:Last Mod: 03 Eylül 2010, 12:11