Peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians resume on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., following a push by Secretary of State John Kerry to rekindle relations between diplomats on both sides over iftar, the evening meal with which Muslims break their daily fast during Ramadan. The negotiations are the first in nearly three years, and come amid wide-spread skepticism that they will curb the more than half-century-old conflict.
The Palestinian team is led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ adviser, Mohammed Shtayyeh, while the Israeli team is led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho, a veteran adviser to Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu.
Participants from both delegations have participated in numerous failed talks before, but the State Department’s tone remained optimistic.
"It sounds like we're lucky to have decades of experience ready to come back to the table and make an effort to push forward," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Kerry spoke for about 45 minutes with representatives from the Israeli negotiating team and then another roughly 45 minutes with the Palestinian delegation before sitting down for dinner on the top floor of the State Department.
"Not very much to talk about at all," Kerry said jokingly before starting dinner shortly after 9 p.m.
The meal was served hours after Kerry announced he had appointed Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, to lead the talks.
Noting that the possibility of “reasonable compromise” is now possible, Kerry said Indyk is still “realistic” about the challenge ahead.
Indyk’s appointment has the blessing of both Netanyahu and Abbas, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Kerry announced earlier this month that the two sides had agreed to resume talks. This announcement was preceded by Israel’s decision to free 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners, which was a long-standing demand of Abbas.
"It is no secret this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago," Kerry said. "It is no secret, therefore, that many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues."
Some pro-Palestine advocates see the appointment of Indyk as a continuation of a process that has left them unsatisfied in the past.
“For people to believe that this is going to work, that this is going to be different from the last time, we need to see an American approach that differs from the previous approach, and Indyk is the opposite of that,” Yousef Munayyer, executive director of The Palestine Center, told Al Jazeera.
“He is a representation, I think, of everything that's wrong with the U.S. as mediator. It's the same type of negotiation that panders to Israeli concerns and Israeli demands while ignoring the very legitimate grievances of the Palestinians.”
Recent changes in Netanyahu’s tone leads others to believe there could be a two-state solution to the ongoing conflict.
"Netanyahu is talking about the threat of bi-nationalism in a way he never did," David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Peace told USA Today. "Israel doesn't want to be a bi-national state. It wants to be a Jewish state, and not a state that is de facto half Arab and half Jewish."
Source: Al Jazeera and wire services