Kerry 'hopeful' on new Mideast talks, but warns 'very tough choices' ahead

US secretary of state concludes successful round of shuttle diplomacy, says 2 sides will send envoys to Washington next week.

Kerry in Amman (photo credit: Reuters)
Kerry in Amman
(photo credit: Reuters)
AMMAN- Israel and the Palestinians have laid the groundwork for resuming peace talks after an almost three-year stalemate, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday, though he cautioned the deal was not final and required more diplomacy.
Kerry, winding up his sixth Middle East brokering mission this year, gave few details. He anticipated Israeli and Palestinian envoys would come to Washington soon for the launch of direct negotiations.
Kerry specified that Juctice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat could come to Washington "within the next week or so, and a further announcement will be made by all of us at that time".
Asked if that meeting of envoys would be considered the start of negotiations, a US official said: "Yes."
"I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final-status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Kerry told reporters in Amman.
"The best way to give these negotiations a chance is to keep them private," he said. "We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead. Today, however, I am hopeful."
Peacemaking has ebbed and flowed for two decades, last breaking down in late 2010 over Israel's settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, where, along with the Gaza Strip, Palestinians seek statehood.
The Palestinians, with international backing, have said that state must have borders approximating the territories' boundaries before Israel captured them in the 1967 Six Day Way - a demand hard to reconcile with the Jewish state's insistence on keeping swathes of settlements under any eventual peace accord.
Israeli and Palestinian officials welcomed Kerry's announcement cautiously.
Both sides face hardline opposition at home to compromise in a stubborn conflict of turf and faith.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a right-winger, has long balked at withdrawing to the 1967 lines, and his coalition government includes a nationalist-religious faction opposed to any settlement removal.
Abbas's own authority is in question; while his US-backed administration holds sway in the West Bank, Gaza is governed by rival, armed Hamas Islamists who reject permanent coexistence with the Jewish state.
"Abbas does not have the legitimacy to negotiate on fateful issues on behalf of the Palestinian people," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Kerry's announcement, on the eve of the Jewish sabbath and as Muslims ended their daily Ramadan fast, may have been meant in part to deflect domestic scrutiny from Netanyahu and Abbas.
Their "courageous leadership" was commended by Kerry.
"Both of them have chosen to make difficult choices here, and both of them were instrumental in pushing in this direction. We wouldn't be standing here tonight if they hadn't made the choices," he said.