Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday issued a formal invitation to Israel and the Palestinians to re-commence direct peace negotiations early next month in Washington after a break of nearly two years. U.S. officials say a peace accord can be achieved within a year, and that the United States is ready if needed to offer "bridging proposals."
U.S. officials have every expectation that the sides, after months of U.S. brokered indirect talks, will accept the invitation.
Plans are being made for President Obama to host a meeting of Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders September 1 on the eve of the formal re-launch of negotiations the following day at the State Department.
At a press event, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she and President Obama are encouraged by the leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and share their commitment to a two-state solution of the conflict.
She said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah will attend in view of their critical role in the effort, and that continued Arab support will be essential to success.
Clinton appealed to both sides to avoid steps that would hinder direct negotiations and acknowledged that difficulties can be expected.
"Without a doubt we will hit more obstacles," she said. "The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail the talks. But I ask the parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times, and to continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region."
Watch Secretary Clinton's Announcement:
U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, whose shuttle diplomacy opened the way for the upgrade of the dialogue from so-called "proximity talks," said the direct talks will likely move after the opening meeting in Washington to a venue in the region.
He said it will be a negotiation by the parties themselves on all final status issues in the peace process such as refugees and the status of Jerusalem, but said the United States will be ready with compromise ideas as needed.
"We will make bridging proposals at such time as we deem necessary and appropriate," said the envoy. "But I don't want anyone to have the impression that we are somehow going to supplant or displace the roles of the parties themselves. Nor do we have any view other than this must in the end be an agreement by the parties themselves.
Mitchell a former Senate Majority Leader and 1990's peace broker in Northern Ireland, said he is under no illusion about the difficulty of the process.
He said the fact that there are opponents of peace in both Israeli and Palestinian societies and in the broader region, must not deter the effort, saying that in his Northern Ireland role he encountered "about 700 days of failure, followed by one day of success."
"It takes patience, persistence, a willingness to go back again and again, to not take the first no as a final no, to not take the 50th no as the final no, or the 100th no. We are patient, wed are persevering and we are determined. And we believe there is a basis for concluding a peace agreement in the region and that's what we're going to pursue," said Mitchell.
In tandem with the announcement here, the international Middle East Quartet - the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States - issued a statement endorsing direct negotiations and urging the sides to refrain from "provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric."
In language seen as critical to getting Palestinian participation, the Quartet said an envisaged settlement would "end the occupation which began in 1967" and lead to regional peace as envisaged in U.N. Security Council resolutions and the 2002 Arab League peace initiative.