Kerry aims for Israel-Palestine peace accord in 9 months

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Flanked by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that the United States will play the role of facilitator in final status talks between the parties that he hopes will lead to an agreement in nine months.

“The parties agreed here today that all of the final status issues, all of the core issues, and all other issues, are all on the table for negotiation,” Kerry told journalists at a press appearance with Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saab Erekat at the State Department Tuesday.

“And they are on the table with one simple goal,” Kerry continued. “Our objective is to achieve a final status agreement over the course of next nine months.”

Describing the atmosphere in two days of talks as “constructive, positive,” Kerry said the parties had agreed to “remain engaged in sustained, continuous and substantive meetings” on the core issues over the next nine months, beginning with a meeting in two weeks in either Israel or the West Bank.

The United States will play the role of facilitator in the process, Kerry said. State Department officials said newly appointed U.S. peace envoy Martin Indyk will be spending much time on the ground in the region, going back and forth.

Kerry spoke after President Obama met briefly with the two teams Tuesday morning. The White House stressed its support for Kerry’s effort, after some reports suggested the president was keeping the peace effort, seen as a long shot, at arms-length.

Kerry meantime heaped praise on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for giving another go to the peace process after a series of failed efforts over the past two decades.

“We are here today because the Israeli and Palestinian people have leaders [willing] to heed the call of history,” Kerry said. “Their commitment to make tough choices frankly should give us all hope that these negotiations will accomplish something.”

Erekat, in a brief statement, professed himself “delighted” that “all final status issues are on the table and will be resolved without any exceptions”–referring to the thorny issues such as borders and Jerusalem that are deeply controversial within Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

Livni, for her part, praised her boss Netanyahu, with whom she has often been at odds in the past over his stance towards the peace issue, for approving a prisoner release last weekend as a confidence building gesture to the Palestinians.

“A courageous act of leadership by Prime Minister Netanyahu, that was approved by the Israeli government, made my visit here possible,” Livni said.

Turning to “Saab” Erekat, with whom she was engaged in intensive negotiations during the Annapolis peace process spearheaded by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2007-2008, Livni said “a new opportunity has been created for all of us and we cannot afford to waste it.”

“I believe that history is not made by cynics; it is made by realists, who are not afraid to dream, ” Livni said. “Let us be these people. “

(Photo: Saeb Erekat, left, John Kerry, center, and Tzipi Livni at a press conference in Washington on Tuesday. Photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak.)

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