Israelis and Palestinians have embarked on direct peace talks starting Thursday morning, a breakthrough that came after more than 20 months of stalled dialogue between the two parties.

Announcing the talks at the Rose Garden of the White House, United States President Barack Obama said that the dialogue would comprise "direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians... intended to resolve all final status issues".

Mr. Obama, who is hosting the meetings in Washington with other leaders from the Middle East in attendance, said that the goal was a settlement negotiated between the parties that would end the occupation which began in 1967.

He further underscored that the talks should result in the emergence of "an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish state of Israel and its other neighbours".

Solution will not be imposed: Clinton

In statements made preceding the talks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. understood that it was in its own national security interest that Israel and Palestine succeeded. "But we cannot and we will not impose a solution. Only you can make the decisions necessary to reach an agreement and secure a peaceful future for the Israeli and Palestinian people," she said.

In a similar vein to earlier comments by Mr. Obama, Ms. Clinton cautioned that there would be obstacles and setbacks to the process but the core issues of the negotiations — territory, security, Jerusalem, refugees, and settlements — would get no easier to resolve if they waited and they would not resolve themselves.

With strong words of encouragement for Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas, Ms. Clinton 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."

She added that she was enthused by the fact that both leaders had "embraced the idea of a two-state solution, which is the only path toward a just, lasting peace that ensures security and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians."

The Secretary also addressed the people of the region directly, saying that although their leaders were sitting at the negotiating table, it was they who would ultimately decide the future. She said, "Today as ever, people have to rally to the cause of peace and peace needs champions on every street corner and every kitchen table... We cannot do this without you."

Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas respectively voiced their strong commitment to making the negotiations a success. Mr. Netanyahu emphasised a lasting peace would have to be built upon the foundation of security and that just as Israel would recognise an independent state for the Palestinians, the Palestinians should recognise Israel as a legitimate Jewish state.

Mr. Abbas reiterated his commitment to peace, and also called for an end to settlement and occupation in the disputed territories. He also called for Israel to end the embargo over the Gaza strip.

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