Clinton announces direct talks will resume on Sept. 2

Washington to invite Israel and Palestinians to peace negotiations; Netanyahu welcomes decision saying reaching an agreement is 'difficult challenge but possible.'

Clinton Mitchell 311 (photo credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Clinton Mitchell 311
(photo credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
WASHINGTON  — Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to resume direct negotiations in Washington early next month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday, with a goal of two sovereign states existing side by side in peace.
Clinton made the announcement at the State Department with special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell at her side.
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"As we move forward, it is important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it," Clinton said. "There have been difficulties in the past; there will be difficulties ahead. Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles. The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks. But I ask the parties to persevere."
The office of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement Friday welcoming the US plan.
"Reaching an agreement is a difficult challenge but is possible," the Netanyahu statement said. "We are coming to the talks with a genuine desire to reach a peace agreement between the two peoples that will protect Israel's national security interests, foremost of which is security."
Clinton said the face-to-face talks are to begin September 2 and she hoped that a comprehensive peace agreement can be reached within one year.
"We believe it can be done within a year and that is our objective," Mitchell told reporters. The US, he said, will offer "bridging proposals" designed to advance the negotiations, but he was not specific.
Mitchell said subsequent negotiating sessions with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas probably will be held in the Mideast, but he mentioned no specific site.
Also invited to attend the Washington session are Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II, "in view of their critical role in this effort," Clinton said.
US President Barack Obama will hold one-on-one talks with each of the four leaders, separately, on September 1, followed by a dinner with them, Clinton said.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the special representative of the "Quartet" of Mideast peacemakers — the US, the UN, the European Union and Russia — also has been invited to attend the dinner, she said.
In response to the announcement the representatives of the Quartet issued a statement reaffirming their strong support for direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians to resolve all final status issues.
"The Quartet reaffirms its full commitment to its previous statements, which provide that direct, bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues should 'lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors," the statement continued.
Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat reacting with a statement that he hoped the Quartet and others would work diligently to ensure the one-year time frame for talks is reached and press Israel to end "provocative acts."
"We hope that the Israeli government would refrain from settlement activities, incursions, siege, closures, and provocative acts like demolishing of homes, deporting people from Jerusalem in order to give this peace process the chance it deserves," he said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri opposed the idea of direct talks and said that it "amounts to nothing more than a new attempt to deceive the Palestinian people and international public opinion" according to a statement made by  Friday.
"We in the Hamas movement reject the call of the Quartet and the US administration to resume the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and believe that this invitation and its consequences does not commit the Palestinian people."
A formal statement from Palestinian Authority President Mahmood Abbas' office accepting the invitation was expected later Friday.