US Vice-President Joe Biden has hailed the new, indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians as a “moment of real opportunity”.
Mr Biden, who met Israel’s President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem today, praised the proposed four months of talks, which have been brokered by US Middle East special envoy George Mitchell.
Mr Biden said: “I hope it is a vehicle, a vehicle by which we can begin to allay that layer of mistrust that has built up in the last several years,"
"I think we are at a moment of real opportunity, and I think that the interests of the Israeli and Palestinian people, if everybody stops and takes a deep breath, are actually more in line than they are opposites.”
He added: “Historic peace will require both sides to make historically bold commitments."
The Israeli and Palestinian governments are to meet Mr Mitchell separately: he will shuttle between the two sides. The talks will focus on security issues and the potential borders of a future state.
Mr Mitchell said he hoped the talks would lead to face-to-face negotiations as soon as possible.
He made it clear that he was expecting concrete results from the talks and warned against game-playing.
He said: “I expect both sides to behave seriously, with honesty and in good will because, if one of the sides, in our judgment, does not fulfil our expectations, we will make our concerns clear and we will act accordingly in order to overcome every obstacle."
Mr Biden has also met Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The two discussed security and the threat of a nuclear Iran. Mr Biden said he backed tough UN sanctions against Iran but warned against any military action.
He told reporters after the talks: "Since our administration came to power, I would point out that Iran is more isolated - internally, externally - has fewer friends in the world."
He added: “Israel captured my heart, I make no bone about it. I know that does not mean I do not understand and have great empathy for the circumstance of the Palestinians, but Israel captured my heart and my imagination. I have had the great privilege of not only knowing you, but knowing every Prime Minister and President since the days of Golda Meir.”
Mr Biden will travel to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tomorrow before flying to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah.