Israel, Palestinians resume direct peace talks

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have launched their first direct peace talks in nearly two years.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas joined U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for opening statements, Thursday, in Washington.

Mr. Netanyahu said a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians would take “painful concessions” from both sides. He said Israel is demanding security assurances from the Palestinians and a lasting recognition of Israel’s right to exist.

Mr. Abbas said Palestinians want a “just peace.” He called on Israel to end all settlement activity, and also to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Clinton said she realized the decision for the two leaders to meet directly was not easy.  However, she said core issues such as territory, security and refugees would not get any easier if the leaders waited.

The officials have now begun a series of private talks. U.S. officials have said they hope to broker an agreement within a year.

Obstacles remain, including the threat of violence, which was illustrated over the last two days by a pair of attacks that killed four Israeli settlers. 

The Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility and vowed, Thursday, to continue attacks.  Israel responded by stepping up security.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, opposes Mr. Abbas’ decision to restart peace talks with Israel.

Security is a major issue for Israel in peace talks.  Mr. Netanyahu has said any final deal would have to include arrangements to ensure a future Palestinian state be demilitarized and not become an “Iranian-sponsored terror enclave.”

Mr. Abbas is demanding that Israel halt all settlement activity in areas the Palestinians want as part of their new state, and end its blockade of Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas.

The Palestinian leader has said negotiations would fail unless Israel extends a moratorium on West Bank settlement construction that is due to expire September 26. VOA

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