Secretary of State John Kerry tapped former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk to lead new peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians Monday evening in Washington.
Kerry said after years of stalled negotiations,the Mideast rivals are on a path to a “reasonable compromise” they hope will satisfy both Israel and the Palestinian territories. Still, Monday’s summit essentially just lays the foundation for the real negotiations between the two sides over a variety of issues that still divide them.
“It’s no secret that this is a difficult process,” Kerry said in a press conference at the State Department, outlining Indyk’s appointment. “If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago. It’s no secret therefore that many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises, on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues.”
Indyk was former President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Israel — successful Israeli-Palestinian talks also eluded him more than a decade ago — and he is now vice president and director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.
“The fact that later today Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will sit down in this building to resume final status negotiations after a three-year hiatus is testimony to your extraordinary, tireless efforts, backed by President Obama, to try to resolve this intractable conflict,” Indyk said ahead of Monday’s summit in Foggy Bottom.
For his part, Indyk acknowledged his predecessors’ inability to broker a compromise in the volatile heart of the Middle East.
And Obama tried to keep expectations in check on Monday.
“The most difficult work of these negotiations is ahead, and I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith and with sustained focus and determination,” Obama said. “The United States stands ready to support them throughout these negotiations, with the goal of achieving two states, living side by side in peace and security.”
Kerry will host a working dinner with Israeli and Palestinian officials Monday, the byproduct of months of negotiations with his counterparts in the Middle East. The final hurdle to resuming talks was cleared when Israel agreed Sunday to free 104 Palestinian prisoners, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had demanded.
The secretary of state and other Obama administration officials have been careful to downplay expectations for the rare dialogue since it's unclear if either side is willing to budge from previous, rigid demands.
The Palestinians continue to press for an independent state that includes the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem and have said they would only accept negotiations if Israel agrees to withdraw to its 1967 boundaries. Israel, at least publicly, has given no indication that it would meet such demands.
Former President George W. Bush called on Israel to return to those borders as a condition of starting new negotiations, but Kerry has yet to clarify the administration's position on the issue.