Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to resume stalled direct peace negotiations, U.S. officials said on Friday, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton prepared to invite the two sides to talks in Washington early next month.
Clinton and U.S. special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell are to announce the breakthrough at a State Department news conference, officials said, followed by a statement of support from the “Quartet” of Middle East peacemakers and acceptances from Israel and the Palestinians.
Officials speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the formal announcement said the two sides would gather in Washington at President Barack Obama’s request on Sept. 2 with the goal of reaching a settlement in a year’s time. Subsequent rounds of talks could be held elsewhere, they said.
The Obama administration has been pushing for a speedy resumption of face-to-face negotiations that broke down in December 2008. Mitchell has been shuttling between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for months in a bid to get them to agree.
The Palestinians had been balking at direct talks until the Quartet — the U.A., U.N., European Union and Russia, reaffirmed a March statement calling for a peace deal based on the pre-1967 Mideast war borders.
But Israel had rejected that, saying it amounted to placing conditions on the negotiations. Israel had been demanding a separate invitation from the U.S.
After weeks of wrangling, officials said a compromise had been reached. Under the deal the Quartet would call for talks that “lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours.”
A copy of the statement obtained by The Associated Press says the Quartet believes the talks “can be completed within one year.”