Obama meets Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on peace talks


Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators privately met with US President Barack Obama at the White House Tuesday for a fresh round of Middle East peace talks.

The meeting came during the second day of negotiations organized by Secretary of State John Kerry, the result of six months of shuttle diplomacy undertaken by Kerry to restart peace talks that failed in 2008.

Speaking on Tuesday, Kerry said the negotiators would work towards a final status peace agreement in the next nine months.

The Palestinian negotiating team was led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' adviser, Mohammed Shtayyeh, both with long histories of leading negotiations on peace.

Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni led the Israeli side. Livni was a member of the centrist Kadima party until the last elections and was a strong critic of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu before joining his cabinet.

Martin Indyk, the former US ambassador to Israel, reportedly moderated the discussions. Indyk was involved in the Clinton-era peace deal that fell apart in 2000 and served as ambassador in the late 1990s.

On Tuesday afternoon, Kerry said the Israelis and Palestinians were set to meet again within two weeks. Flanked by Erekat and Livni, Kerry called for two states living side-by-side peacefully.

"We cannot pass along to another generation the responsibility of ending a conflict that is in our power to resolve in our time," Kerry said.

Erekat said, "It's time for the Palestinian people to have an independent, sovereign state of their own."

Livni, praising Netanyahu's leadership in entering peace talks, said, "We are hopeful, but we cannot be naive."

Another attempt at peace talks was made by Obama in 2010, but faltered after a single day following a dispute about settlement construction.

The two sides are locked into at least nine months of talks under the State Department-brokered deal.

In a show of goodwill before the negotiations, Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners who served between 19 and 30 years in prison in four stages over nine months.

Both sides have said that the talks will be difficult and problematic as they face controversial issues such as West Bank settlements, security guarantees for Israel, the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. Palestinian leadership is also divided between Hamas in the Gaza strip and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Hamas has denounced the talks.

The peace talks commenced Monday night over a dinner at Kerry's home.