Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have reconvened US-brokered peace talks in Jerusalem amid low expectations, and dogged by plans for more Jewish settler homes on occupied land.
An Israeli official, who declined to be named and who was briefed on Wednesday’s talks that were held at an undisclosed Jerusalem location, described them as serious and said the parties agreed to meet again soon.
No details were given on the subject matter of the talks. The parties have agreed to refrain from revealing information in order to raise the chances for success, officials said.
On Wednesday, Israel freed 26 Palestinians jailed between 1985 and 2001.
Their release, coupled with President Mahmoud Abbas’s dropping of a demand for a settlement freeze before talks could begin, helped to pave the way towards negotiations.
The resumption of negotiations, after a first round in Washington last month that ended a three-year standoff over Jewish settlement building, followed Palestinian celebrations overnight.
Optimism was in short supply before the first official meeting in Jerusalem in nearly five years.
“Israel will resort to feints and evasion and put up impossible demands in order to say that these negotiations are fruitless and to continue its policy of stealing land as it has done until this moment,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official tasked by Abbas to comment on the talks.
Israel has published plans for 3,100 new settler homes in recent days, drawing US and other international concern and deepening Palestinian distrust.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief peace negotiator and justice minister, said on her Facebook page before the teams met:
“Today, I will continue the important mission I began – to achieve a peace agreement that will keep the country Jewish and democratic and provide security … for Israel and its citizens.”
Israeli cabinet minister Yaakov Peri said a “long and exhausting trek” lay ahead.
“Both for the Palestinians and for us, the hourglass is running out. We will not have many more opportunities to resolve this dispute,” Peri told Army Radio.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has set a goal of nine months for an agreement to be reached.
(Agencies and Al Jazeera – www.aljazeera.net)