Israel and the Palestinians have been invited to resume direct negotiations next month in hopes of reviving the long-stalled Middle East peace process, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the European Union confirmed Friday, dpa reported.
Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will launch the talks in Washington on September 2, with the aim of reaching a comprehensive peace deal in one year.
Clinton said the goal remained a two-state solution and she was confident the one-year timeline was achievable. The talks would be aimed at resolving "all final status issues" in order to end the decades-long Middle East conflict.
Netanyahu welcomed the announcement. The executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization was to meet later Friday to discuss the invitation, which comes after weeks of wrangling between the Israelis and Palestinians over the terms of the negotiations.
"Achieving peace is a difficult challenge but a possible one," Netanyahu said in a statement. "We approach the talks with a genuine will to reach a peace agreement between the two peoples, while safeguarding Israel's national interests, first and foremost security."
Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II were also invited to the Washington gathering. US President Barack Obama would host bilateral meetings and a dinner with the four leaders on September 1 before the launch of formal talks the following day.
Negotiations between the two sides have been started and halted many times in the last decade. The last incarnation of direct talks began at the end of 2007 and was suspended in late 2008 as Israel headed into an election campaign that brought Netanyahu to power.
"Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles," Clinton said. But the talks "should take place without preconditions and be characterized by good faith and a commitment to their success."
In Brussels, the European Union issued a formal statement on behalf of the so-called Mideast Quartet, which consists of Russia, the United Nations, the United States and the EU.
"The Quartet calls on the Israelis and the Palestinians to join in launching direct negotiations ... to resolve all final status issues and fulfil the aspirations of both parties."
The Quartet said it was determined to support Israelis and Palestinians through the talks and urged both sides "to observe calm and restraint, and to refrain from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric."
The resumption will mark the first time Abbas and Netanyahu are spearheading the effort to reach a final settlement. It marks the culmination of months of shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Ramallah by US Middle East envoy George Mitchell.
The Palestinians had insisted on a freeze to all Israeli settlement activity before entering direct negotiations, while Netanyahu had said there should be no preconditions.
Mitchell acknowledged that there remained a lack of trust between the Israelis and Palestinians and a deep divide on many of the key issues that would be critical to reaching a deal, including Israeli settlement building and the future of Jerusalem.
"Past efforts that did not succeed cannot deter us from trying again," Mitchell said. The US could offer "bridging proposals" in order to help the two sides reach a deal.
"The cause is so important, so right, so just, that our continued effort is the right thing to do and we are going to pursue it with determination," Mitchell said.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called the new round of talks "a major step on the road towards a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region, something I am hopeful we can now achieve."