U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has launched the first direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in nearly two years.
Both sides agreed to a second round of talks to be held in the Middle East later this month.
At a ceremony in the State Department's ornate Benjamin Franklin room, Secretary Clinton said the Obama administration is committed to forging a peace agreement within the next year.
She stressed the main work will have to be done by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "We believe, prime minister and president, that you can succeed and we understand that this is in the national security interest of the United States that you do so. But we cannot and we will not impose a solution," she said.
Sitting under sparkling chandeliers at a U-shaped table between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas, Clinton congratulated the leaders for agreeing to resume negotiations. But she warned of difficult days to come in the effort to create an independent Palestinian state and security for Israel. "There undoubtedly will be obstacles and setbacks. Those who oppose the cause of peace will try in every way possible to sabotage this process as we have already seen this week," she said.
Violence has always threatened to derail peace efforts.
In recent days, a pair of attacks killed four Jewish settlers in the West Bank. The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and opposes peace talks with Israel, claimed responsibility.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said such attacks threaten the negotiations and highlight Israel's need for security. "They seek to kill our people, kill our state, kill our peace and so achieving security is a must. Security is the foundation of peace," he said.
Gideon Lichfield, deputy-editor for The Economist on-line, discusses the importance of Israel-Palestinian direct talks:
A critical first test for the peace talks could come later this month. Israel's 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank expires September 26.
Mr. Abbas has said the negotiations will be called off if Israel fails to extend the freeze.
In his remarks, the Palestinian president made his position clear. "And we call on the Israeli government to move forward with its commitment to end all settlement activities and completely lift the embargo over the Gaza Strip," he said.
The negotiations are the first direct talks since the last effort broke down in December 2008. The Obama administration spent its first 20 months in office coaxing the two sides back to the bargaining table.
Despite the success in launching the talks, the gaps between the two sides are wide and distrust remains after years of violence and deadlock.
U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell called the first round of talks productive and he announced that the parties have decided to meet regularly to negotiate. "They agreed to meet again on September 14 and 15 in the region and roughly two weeks thereafter, every two weeks thereafter," he said.
The Palestinians want a state in areas Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Mr. Netanyahu has accepted the idea of a Palestinian state, but with significant conditions and without East Jerusalem.