WASHINGTON— Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are meeting in Washington for direct talks after a nearly three-year lapse. The sides are discussing the next steps during two days of talks.
At the State Department Monday night, Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a dinner for Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Earlier in the day, before the negotiators arrived, Kerry named former ambassador Martin Indyk as the U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
"Prime Minister Netyanhu and President Mahmoud Abbas have made the tough decisions required to come back to the negotiating table," he said. "I'm therefore deeply grateful to you [Secretary Kerry] and to President Obama for entrusting me with the mission of helping you take this breakthrough and turn it in to a full-fledged Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement."
In recent months, Secretary Kerry has engaged in so-called "shuttle diplomacy," meeting repeatedly with Israeli and Palestinian officials in a bid to bring both sides back to the negotiating table.
Kerry stressed that difficult choices lie ahead in the pursuit of reasonable compromises on complicated issues.
"Ambassador Indyk is realistic. He understands that Israeli-Palestinian peace will not come easily, and it will not happen overnight," Kerry said. "But he also understands that there is now a path forward and we must follow that path with urgency."
The sides have agreed to engage in direct, final status negotiations for at least nine months, said State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki.
"So we're going to make every effort to reach an agreement within that time frame. But again, if we're making progress and we're continuing to make progress, this is not a deadline, it's not a stop end. It's just an agreement to continue to work through that time period," she said.
U.S. officials say the situation on the ground grows more complicated as long as the thorniest issues go unresolved, such as the status of Jerusalem and the final borders of an independent Palestinian state.