OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel will make “dramatic decisions” to reach a final peace agreement that will end the conflict with the Palestinians, Israel’s chief negotiator said Tuesday while warning that hawks inside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition were making her job more difficult.
Tzipi Livni’s remarks came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met for their second round of peace talks Tuesday.
An initial two-hour meeting took place in secret in the morning, with negotiators returning to Jerusalem’s King David Hotel for a “second round of talks” in the evening, a senior official said on condition of anonymity.
“A meeting was held today between the Palestinian delegation, headed by Saeb Erakat and Mohammad Shtayyeh, and the Israeli delegation of [Justice Minister] Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho,” the official told AFP.
Details of the morning discussions were not revealed, following a request from Washington last week for a strict news blackout.
In the evening, the negotiators were expected to focus on “how to begin discussing borders and security,” a source said, indicating the talks on borders would touch on the issue of Jerusalem, settlements and the Jordan River.
Each team was expected to hand over a list of names of the negotiators who would chair committees on key issues such as Jerusalem, borders, security, prisoners, water, settlements and the economy.
“The Palestinians already have their list of names, they just need the list from the Israelis,” he said.
Although the Palestinians had pushed for further U.S. pressure on Israel at the talks, the Israeli side insisted that Tuesday’s meetings take place without U.S. involvement, he said.
The negotiators will meet again next week in Jericho although no date has yet been set.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent months engaging in shuttle diplomacy between the two sides before they agreed to return to the table after a five-year freeze in negotiations.
Livni, speaking on Israel Radio, also refused to comment on the talks, saying that holding negotiations far from the media was meant to build mutual trust.
But she predicted there would be “dramatic decisions in the end,” and lamented the lack of support from hard-line elements in the coalition.
Talks collapsed in 2008 and remained stalled until now, mainly over the issue of Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian land.
The Palestinians demanded a settlement freeze in exchange for resuming talks – a condition that Israel refused.
Kerry managed to get the Palestinians to drop their demand in exchange for Israel’s release of longtime Palestinian prisoners involved in killing Israeli civilians and soldiers. Talks on a final deal are to last six to nine months.
Livni said that hawkish parties in the coalition are making the talks more difficult because of their opposition to establishment of a Palestinian state, the centerpiece of any peace deal.“It is no secret that in this coalition there is at least one party ... which objects to the idea of two states for two peoples, which is something I support with all my heart,” Livni said.
“It is definitely very problematic in regard to the negotiations,” she said.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home Party, the coalition’s third largest, objects to conceding territory to the Palestinians. The party is allied with the Jewish settler movement.
Bennett is not alone. Many Israelis balk at the idea of withdrawing from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war.
Tuesday’s talks were clouded by the death of a Palestinian man in a clash with Israeli forces. The Israeli military said he was killed after soldiers came under fire while mounting an arrest raid in the West Bank town of Jenin.