Israeli and Palestinian leaders meet in Jerusalem Wednesday for a second day of U.S.-brokered direct talks on a peace accord. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says they have begun to grapple with the core issues of a two-state settlement of the Middle East conflict.
Obama administration officials are not making any claims of tangible progress, so far, on final-status issues such as Jerusalem, refugees and the borders of an envisaged Palestinian state.
But they say they are impressed with the seriousness with which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are approaching the direct talks begun in Washington earlier this month.
The two leaders and Clinton met Tuesday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort, Sharm el-Sheikh. They continue the dialogue, late Wednesday, at the Israeli prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, which Mr. Abbas has not visited since the previous talks broke down almost two years ago.
At a morning meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Clinton called Mr. Netanyahu a leader who understands how important it is to move forward toward peace, and that Mr. Abbas shares that determination.
"I have sat with these two men individually and together. I have listened to them talk candidly and forcefully. They are getting down to business and they have begun to grapple with the core issues that can only be resolved through face to face negotiations," Clinton said. "I believe they are serious about reaching an agreement that results in two states living side-by-side in peace and security."
Clinton says the fundamental reality for Israel is that the status quo is unsustainable and that it needs a two-state solution with the Palestinians to remain a secure and democratic Jewish state.
Mr. Peres, a former prime minister whose role as Israeli head of state is mainly ceremonial, says the direct talks have gone much better than all the "skeptics and pessimists" had expected.
"I don't believe that you can solve the problems in one or two, or three, meetings. But is was an opening. It has a continuation," Peres said. "And, my impression, talking to our own prime minister and some of the leaders, the sense is: let's do what can be done for the better and easier and earlier for all the parties concerned. I think you have to act with great dynamism and determination."
The talks face an early hurdle with the expiration, late this month, of a 10-month Israeli moratorium on most settlement construction in the West Bank. Palestinians have said they would quit the negotiations if building resumes.
Clinton and other U.S. officials have urged that the moratorium be extended and that Palestinians take steps that would help Mr. Netanyahu reconcile members of his right-leaning coalition to an extension.
The secretary of state ends her visit to the region Thursday in Jordan, while U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell goes to Syria to urge a resumption of Israel-Syrian peace contacts.