President Shimon Peres on Tuesday expressed hope that the tripartite meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and US President Barack Obama scheduled to be held in New York later in the day, will lead to the resumption of Middle East peace talks.
"All sides have tried to lower expectations from the meeting, but the expectations for peace are always high - I hope the meeting will lead to continued negotiations," Peres told students during a visit at the Kaduri Agricultural School in the North.
The trilateral meeting, which will follow two separate ones between Obama and each of the two leaders, represents a limited accomplishment for the US as it tries to get the sides to the bargaining table, but it may be one of symbolism more than substance.
Peres went on to back the prime minister's decision to deny PA preconditions for resuming the peace talks.
"I think it would be a mistake for the Palestinians to announce that east Jerusalem is a settlement before the negotiations begin. It will not happen and hasn't happened in the past," the president said.
Just prior to leaving for the United Nations on Monday, senior diplomatic officials said Tuesday's tripartite meeting in New York will serve as the "kick-off" to a renewed diplomatic process, even though negotiations with the Palestinians will not be launched at that time.
According to the senior Israeli diplomatic officials, Israel and the US got extremely close to an agreement on the package that would launch the negotiations, but the Palestinians refused to budge on their demand that no negotiations would begin until Israel declared a total freeze.
The White House, meanwhile, tamped down expectations about the meeting between Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas.
"We have no grand expectations out of one meeting," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs Monday, saying only that it would be an important way to continue "the hard work, day-to-day diplomacy that has to be done to seek a lasting peace."
Though the White House has long been laboring toward the meeting - originally conceived as a launching point for renewed peace talks, to be accompanied by gestures from both sides as well as the Arab world - the US has struggled just to get Israelis and Palestinians to meet on the sidelines of this week's UN General Assembly.
Herb Keinon and Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report
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