Israelis and Palestinians will aim to reach a final-status agreement to end their conflict over the next nine months, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Washington on Tuesday.
Kerry made the remarks at a tri-party press conference marking the resumption of direct negotiations. He stood together with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
“The parties have agreed to remain engaged in sustained, continuous and substantive negotiations on the core issues,” Kerry said.
Negotiators will meet in the next two weeks in Israel or in the Palestinian territories, he said, adding that all core issues and all final-status issues would be part of the negotiations.
“They are on the table with one simple goal: a view to ending the conflict, ending the claims,” he said.
In the upcoming days and weeks, the Israeli government will take a number of steps to improve conditions on the ground for both Israelis and Palestinians, he continued.
He cautioned the public that the content of the negotiations would be kept secret and that he would be the only person to provide information.
After the press conference, senior officials from the White House and State Department held a briefing, in which they said that Palestinian action against Israel at the United Nations was highly unlikely as long as negotiations continued.
It is understood that during negotiations, the Palestinian Authority will cease its unilateral campaign for statehood at the UN, and will not attempt to pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court, officials said – adding, however, that this had not been explicitly stated.
“It’s no secret that one of the motivating factors, I think for everybody, was to avoid that sort of train wreck that would have happened if we weren’t able to get negotiations started,” a senior White House official told reporters.
Asked about Palestinian threats to refer Israel to the ICC, he said there were “no guarantees of anything,” but that “so long as this process is moving forward, I think the risk of that sort of thing are reduced, if not entirely eliminated.”
A senior State Department official added that “the parties have agreed to take affirmative steps to create a positive atmosphere for negotiations. And both sides are going to take that very seriously.”
The officials said the US would play a “facilitator role” in the next round of talks.
At the press conference, Kerry spoke of the importance of peace for Israel and the Palestinians.
He thanked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for their courageous leadership.
“We’re here today because the Israeli people and the Palestinian people both have leaders willing to heed the call of history, leaders who will stand strong in the face of criticism and are right now for what they know is in their people’s best interests.
Their commitment to make tough choices, frankly, should give all of us hope that these negotiations actually have a chance to accomplish something,” he said.
“We all understand the goal that we’re working towards: two states living side by side in peace and security. Two states because two proud peoples each deserve a country to call their own. Two states because the children of both peoples deserve the opportunity to realize their legitimate aspirations in security and in freedom. And two states because the time has come for a lasting peace,” he said.
To achieve success, it is important to change the understanding of what compromise means, from an act of loss to one of gain, he continued.
He asserted that the groundbreaking economic initiative that the Middle East Quartet and its envoy Tony Blair had worked on with the help of the private sector could transform the Palestinian economy, build up unprecedented markets and unblock foreign investment.
There will be new jobs, new homes and new industries for the Palestinians, he said, declaring that Israel would be able to live in peace with Arab and Muslim nations and that “pernicious attacks on Israel’s legitimacy” would end.
The United States, he said, would continue to address Israeli and Palestinian security concerns.
Leaders from around the globe understand that they also have a role to play in the process, he went on.
“I think everyone involved here believes that we cannot pass along to another generation the responsibility of ending a conflict that is in our power to resolve in our time. They should not be expected to bear that burden, and we should not leave it to them. They should not be expected to bear the pain of continued conflict or perpetual war. So while I understand the skepticism, I don’t share it, and I don’t think we have time for it,” he said.
Both Livni and Erekat thanked Kerry and US President Barack Obama for their efforts.
“Palestinians have suffered enough. No one benefits more from the success of this endeavor than the Palestinians,” Erekat said.
“I am delighted that all final status issues are on the table and will be resolved without any exceptions,” he continued. “It is time for the Palestinian people to have an independent sovereign state of their own. It is time for the Palestinians to live in peace, freedom and dignity within their own independent sovereign state.”
Livni said Netanyahu’s “courageous act of leadership” in pushing the government to approve the eventual release of 104 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails had made the start of talks possible.
“In these negotiations, it’s not our intention to argue about the past but to create solutions and make decisions for the future,” she said.
She turned to Erekat and said that in the past, they had spent time in negotiations that had led nowhere.
“We didn’t complete our mission.
And this is something that we need to do now in these negotiations that will be launched today. A new opportunity is being created for us, for all of us, and we cannot afford to waste it,” she said.
“History is not made by cynics,” she added. “It is made by realists who are not afraid to dream. And let us be these people.”
The first round of negotiations lasted through Monday night and Tuesday morning, and included bilateral discussions between the direct parties, as well as talks with the Americans, including US special envoy to the peace process Martin Indyk, Kerry and Obama, who hosted the two parties at the White House with Vice President Joseph Biden in attendance.
Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren and his Palestinian counterpart Maen Areikat attended the Tuesday press conference as well.
Following the press conference, the Quartet, consisting of the United Nations, Russian Federation, United States and European Union, put out a statement in support of Kerry.
“While noting that much hard work lies ahead, the Quartet expresses its hope that renewed negotiations will be substantive and continuous and set a clear path towards a two-state solution, the end of conflict, and lasting peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians,” the statement read. “The Quartet intends to meet soon at the Envoys level to discuss next steps.”
The last time Israelis and Palestinians held direct talks was through the Annapolis process under former US president George W. Bush and former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Talks have been largely frozen since December 2008.