Israeli officials optimistic on peace talks

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 11, 2013
John Kerry (Photo: AP)

John Kerry (Photo: AP)

Despite the delay in the diplomatic process, Israeli officials are optimistic that the attempts of US Secretary of State John Kerry to re-launch the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians will be successful.

According to Israeli diplomatic sources, progress has been made on many of the issues and now the leaders on both sides, particularly the Palestinians, are mainly concerned with convincing their people of the necessity of restarting the process.

The last round of indirect talks, which took place two weeks ago when Mr Kerry made his fifth visit to the region in less than four months, did not result in an announcement on new talks. However, a senior US diplomat remained in Jerusalem, holding daily meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams and putting the final touches to an interim deal that Washington believes will allow both sides to finally meet again.

The main issues still under discussion are the release of Palestinian prisoners and the settlement freeze.

The Palestinians are demanding a total freeze on all building in the West Bank during the talks and the release of over 100 Palestinian prisoners at the start of negotiations. Israel is currently prepared to release about two-thirds of that number, and to do so in stages.

Regarding the settlements, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is so far proposing an unofficial freeze of building outside the main blocs.

Both sides have agreed that the agenda for the talks should aim at a solution based on pre-1967 borders with land swaps and the creation of a Palestinian state and an Israeli state with a Jewish character. The Israeli government will be allowed to express its reservations regarding borders and the Palestinians their reservation on Israel’s Jewishness.

An Israeli diplomatic source said this week that “there is more optimism now that Kerry will succeed in creating a formula for a return to talks. You can see it in the way Palestinian leaders are talking to their own people, that they are preparing the ground for this.” Mr Kerry was expected back in the region this week or next.

Last updated: 3:30pm, July 11 2013