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Israelis, Palestinians Return to Face-to-Face Talks for First Time in Years

July 29, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: The long-frozen Israeli-Palestinian peace process may be showing faint signs of a thaw. The two sides were sitting down this evening at the U.S. State Department, face to face, for the first time in years.

Hours before Israelis and Palestinians met to relaunch rare direct negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry this morning called for reasonable compromise.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Going forward, it’s no secret that this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago. I know the negotiations are going to be tough, but I also know that the consequences of not trying could be worse.

GWEN IFILL: In an effort to jump-start the stalled process, Kerry has made six trips to the region since February. He was joined today by a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, named special envoy for the new talks.

Yesterday, Israel’s cabinet agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners to clear the way for fresh negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israel: This moment is not easy for me. It is not easy for the cabinet ministers and it’s not easy especially for the bereaved families, whose feelings I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the nation. And this is one of those moments.

GWEN IFILL: That decision quickly provoked protests by a number of Israelis. And today, in Tel Aviv, reactions were still mixed.

ELIOT DIAMANT, resident of Tel Aviv: It’s a good development. I believe that it’s the time to give it a chance and to try it again. I hope things are going to happen this time as we wish they would.

ELIEZER ZAIGER, resident of Tel Aviv: A terrible decision. I don’t think — you’re not going to do any — bring any good to the Israeli nation.

GWEN IFILL: On the Palestinian side, protesters on the West Bank clashed with police on Sunday. And today there was skepticism on the streets of Ramallah.

ISSAM BAKER, resident of Ramallah: I think returning back to the negotiation again is a very big mistake from the Palestinian leadership.

GWEN IFILL: That leadership, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, doesn’t govern Gaza, where Hamas rules. The militant group has never recognized Israel’s right to exist and it condemned any plans for talks.

SAMI ABU ZUHRI, Hamas spokesperson: Hamas reiterates its objection to the return to negotiations between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Israeli occupation, and reminds us the only beneficiary is the Israeli occupation.

GWEN IFILL: Prospects for the new State Department talks are anything but clear. The last significant direct negotiations broke down in 2008. An attempted revival in 2010 lasted just one day.