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Israel Welcomes New Peace Talks with Palestinians

  • Robert Berger

The Middle East peace process is finally getting back on track.

Israel has welcomed a decision by the Arab League approving new indirect peace talks with the Palestinians.

"The important thing from our point of view is that talks are starting," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. "The only way to solve the difficult issues that are on the table is through talking, through negotiation. And if both sides show vision we can actually move forward."

U.S. envoy George Mitchell is due here later this week to launch the talks, ending a 16-month stalemate.

The peace process was deadlocked over Jewish settlement constructions in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, on territory the Palestinians claim for the capital of a future state. Both the United States and Palestinians demanded a settlement freeze, but Israel refused, saying it can build anywhere in its capital.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem following its capture in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, a move not recognized by the international community.

The settlement issue strained relations between Israel and Washington, so the Israeli government made a concession: quietly curbing construction in East Jerusalem. That cleared the way for the resumption of peace talks.

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi says the ball is in Israel's court.

"If it is to succeed, the indirect talks, of course we need to see on the ground that Israel has stopped settlement activities in Jerusalem, around Jerusalem and everywhere else," said Ashrawi.

The peace talks will last for a preliminary period of four months, but expectations are low for a breakthrough. Gaps remain wide on the thorniest issues of the conflict: the status of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements, Palestinian refugees and final borders.