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Middle East Peace Negotiations Set to Resume

August 20, 2010 at 7:30 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to restart their long-stalled direct negotiations.

Jeffrey Brown has our coverage.

JEFFREY BROWN: The formal announcement that talks will resume came from the secretary of state this morning.

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I have invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet on September 2 in Washington, D.C., to relaunch direct negotiations to resolve all final-status issues, which we believe can be completed within one year.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Israeli and Palestinian leaders will meet after 20 months of no direct negotiations, a period that saw an intense war fought in Gaza and continued tensions over Israeli settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Secretary Clinton referenced the troubled past between the two sides and the uncertain future.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: 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.

JEFFREY BROWN: Also invited to the talks: Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, as well as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, representing the so-called quartet, which includes the U.S., European Union, United Nations, and Russia.

The Obama administration’s Middle East envoy, former Senator George Mitchell, was asked, why now?

GEORGE MITCHELL, Special U.S. Envoy For the Middle East: We believe it’s the recognition by the parties themselves, by their leaders, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, that the best outcome is an agreement which results in two states living side by side in peace and security, and that the only way that can be achieved is through direct negotiations between the parties.

JEFFREY BROWN: Statements from both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership offered cautious acceptance of the talks, while containing continued evidence of longstanding disagreements. The Israelis praised the American clarification that the talks would be without preconditions. Reaching an agreement, the statement said, is a difficult challenge, but is possible.

Palestinian lead negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters: “It can be done in less than a year. The most important thing now is to see to it that the Israeli government refrains from settlement activities, incursions, fait accompli policies.”

U.S. officials made clear that Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza, would have no role in the talks.

GEORGE MITCHELL: Let’s be clear, Hamas won a legislative election. They acknowledge the continued executive authority of President Abbas and his team. And it is entirely appropriate that we negotiate with the executive head of that government.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, in Gaza today, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called on Palestinian Authority President Abbas not to join the talks.

ISMAIL HANIYEH, Hamas leader (through translator): We don’t see any advantage in the renewal of the peace talks. It is a continuation of the unclear political path. As long as the Palestinian negotiating team is not backed up with the Palestinian unity, and as long as they have no other options, for sure they will obey the demands of the quartet or the Americans.

JEFFREY BROWN: President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will gather, however, at the White House September 1, a dinner hosted by President Obama.