After months of stalling, the Middle East peace process received a shot in the arm this week when the United States announced that it would be hosting talks between the leaders of Palestine and Israel in Washington in September.
In a statement Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “After proximity talks and consultations with both sides, on behalf of the U.S. government, I have invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet on 02 September in Washington, D.C., to re-launch direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues, which we believe can be completed within one year.”
Prospects for peace ground to a halt in March this year when, even as Vice-President Joe Biden was in the region to facilitate direct talks, Israel’s Interior Ministry announced that permission had been granted for 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. At the time, a war of words ensued between Israel and the U.S., with Mr. Biden saying, “I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem.”
Optimistic over negotiations
However, expressing optimism regarding next month’s negotiations, Ms. Clinton said that President Barack Obama and she were encouraged by the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas and shared their commitment to a two-state solution.
Secretary Clinton also emphasised that President Obama had invited President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan to attend the talks in Washington, given their critical role in this effort. She said that Mr. Obama would hold bilateral meetings with the four leaders followed by a dinner with them on 01 September.
Blair to join dinner
Further, Ms. Clinton said, Quartet Representative Tony Blair had also been invited to the dinner in view of his important work in helping Palestinians build the institutions of their future state, “an effort which must continue during the negotiations”.
Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas are then scheduled to join Ms. Clinton at the State Department on 02 September for a trilateral meeting to re-launch direct negotiations. On that effort, Ms. Clinton noted that there had been difficulties in the past and there would be difficulties ahead and, “without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles”.
Yet, she pleaded, “I ask the parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times, and to continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region.” These negotiations should take place without preconditions and be characterised by good faith, she said.