The Cable

Clinton announces direct talks to begin in September in Washington

After 18 months of painstaking diplomacy in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Special Envoy George Mitchell announced Friday that the Israelis and Palestinians will meet in Washington Sept. 1 and 2 to begin direct talks to end their conflict, with the goal of completing negotiations within one year. In a press ...

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

After 18 months of painstaking diplomacy in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Special Envoy George Mitchell announced Friday that the Israelis and Palestinians will meet in Washington Sept. 1 and 2 to begin direct talks to end their conflict, with the goal of completing negotiations within one year.

In a press conference at the State Department, Clinton said that the talks should proceed “without preconditions,” and Mitchell said that all permanent status-issues will be on the table. The sequencing of dealing with those issues and the details of subsequent meetings are set to be worked out at the initial meetings, which will also be attended by the leaders of Egypt and Jordan.

President Obama will host a dinner for all four leaders and Quartet Representative Tony Blair Sept. 1 and Clinton will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the next day to kick off the formal negotiations.

Both Clinton and Mitchell warned that working to a peace agreement will be no easy task.

“Without a doubt we will hit more obstacles,” Clinton said. “The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks. But I ask these parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times, and to continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region.”

Mitchell referred back to his time as lead negotiator during the drive to achieve peace in Northern Ireland.

“The main negotiation lasted 22 months. During that time the effort was repeatedly branded a failure,” he said. “In a sense, we had about 700 days of failure and one day of success. And we approach this task with the same determination to succeed, notwithstanding the difficulties … past efforts that did not succeed cannot deter us from trying again, because the cause is noble and just and right for all concerned.”

The announcement follows two weeks of intense shuttle diplomacy by Mitchell and telephone diplomacy by Clinton, who had thought the deal was done during Mitchell’s trip to the region last week.

The Middle East Quartet, which includes the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia issued its own statement Friday morning, calling on the parties to “resolve all final-status issues.”

As expected, the statement sidestepped some of the most contentious issues in the negotiations, including the status of Jerusalem and the continuation of Israeli settlements, although it did reaffirm previous statements that have weighed in on these topics.

Clinton’s comments appeared intended to give cover to Netanyahu, who has insisted that he would not accept any preconditions before proceeding to direct talks.

For their part, the Palestinians said repeatedly that they wouldn’t enter negotiations without clear terms of reference and a continuation of Israel’s 10-month settlement freeze, which expires September 26.

It remains to be seen whether the talks will have enough momentum to enable Netanyahu to continue the freeze amid what is likely to be heavy criticism among his domestic base.

For more on the backstory behind today’s announcement, read Thursday’s reporting.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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