Efforts by the United States to revive the Middle East peace process are finally bearing fruit.
Israel and the Palestinians have begun indirect peace talks, the first negotiations in 17 months. The announcement was made after Palestinian leaders met U.S. envoy George Mitchell in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
"I can officially declare today that the proximity talks have begun," Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said. "And we hope that every possible effort will be exerted in order to give President Obama and Senator Mitchell the chance they deserve in order to reach a successful conclusion to this endeavor."
There was positive reaction in Israel. Speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the Palestinian decision to begin indirect talks; but he said peace could only be achieved in face-to-face negotiations.
The Palestinians prefer indirect talks because of a dispute with Israel over Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Expectations are low for a breakthrough in the four months of peace talks. There are deep differences on the core issue of the conflict, such as the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and the final borders of a Palestinian state. George Mitchell will try to narrow the gaps as he shuttles between Jerusalem and the West Bank.