The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations may have only just begun, but US Gen. John Allen is already on the ground working on security arrangements that might be part of a future agreement, a senior US official said Wednesday.

“The security arrangements are critical for any agreement, and therefore Gen. Allen is working on them,” the official said.

Allen was appointed by US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in May to serve as the US special envoy on security issues, and to develop a security plan for a final Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

Meanwhile, Martin Indyk, the US special envoy to the negotiations, is expected to arrive in the region within the next two weeks to begin working on the talks, which are expected to begin in the second week of August, after Ramadan.

A senior State Department official said the initial talks are to focus on the “modalities” of the negotiations, such as in which order to discuss the so-called core issues.

Although the US has not clearly defined the parameters of the talks, a senior State Department official said “unequivocally” that the US position was the one US President Barack Obama laid out in a May 2011 speech that infuriated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. In that speech, Obama called for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, with mutual agreed swaps, and a lasting peace that would involve two states: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people.

“We remain absolutely committed to that position. But it would not be safe to say that the parties have necessarily accepted that as the basis for their negotiations going forward,” the official said.

He also referred to settlement construction, saying US opposition remained clear and unchanged, and that Washington hoped both sides would take “steps to create a positive atmosphere for negotiations.”

That said, the official added that “whereas last time we did an extensive amount of work to create a settlement moratorium or a settlement freeze, we haven’t gone down that path now. And so I think it would be fair to say that you are likely to see Israeli settlement activity continue.”

The official said the parties had committed to stay at the table for nine months, although this period had not been set as a deadline.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, heading Israel’s negotiating team with Netanyahu’s envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, said on Channel 2, however, that if the negotiations were not serious they would not last nine months, and that obviously if they were serious they would continue.

“We will not reach a point that an agreement won’t be reached because time has run out,” she said.

On her return from Washington, Livni briefed Netanyahu on the two days of discussions.

Once a fierce critic of Netanyahu, the justice minister praised him Wednesday, saying he and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had taken courageous decisions to give in and enter long negotiations.

“Everyone who said [to me], ‘Why are you joining this government, it won’t work with him [Netanyahu], and even if you meet with the Palestinians, the moment you go into the room and open up maps it will blow up,’ sees now that this is not the case,” she said.

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, meanwhile, said in an Israel Radio interview that while there might be good reasons for skepticism in light of past experience, “there is now also a reason for hope, and the success of the talks is definitely a realistic possibility.”

According to Shapiro, the sides know that those sitting on the other side of the table are “true partners.”

“I think that there are enough conditions to give these negotiations a chance for success,” he said. “Both sides have many interests in common to make it happen."

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