Israel, Palestinians set down guidelines for peace talks

Israel and the Palestinians are setting down guidelines for new peace talks brokered by the United States.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the expected resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians after a four-year stalemate.

Speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said negotiations with the Palestinians are a “vital strategic interest” of Israel.

He said the talks will be difficult and any final agreement would be brought to a national referendum.

Israeli and Palestinian chief negotiators are due to meet in Washington soon with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who on Friday announced an agreement had been reached establishing a basis for the resumption of direct final status negotiations.  The officials will try to hammer out the framework for resumed peace talks, but disagreements have already emerged over the borders of a future Palestinian state.

The Palestinians say they have received written guarantees from Kerry that negotiations will be based on borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh says Israel must withdraw from territories it captured in 1967, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Abu Rudeineh said that Secretary Kerry understands the Palestinian position, which is the end of the Israeli occupation and a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.

But Israel says the ’67 lines are indefensible.

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel has not and will not make any commitments on the 1967 borders.

Israel’s longstanding position is that it will keep major Jewish settlements in the West Bank in any final peace agreement, and that it will never withdraw from East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City and Judaism’s holiest sites.

So the planned new peace talks face major obstacles on the thorniest issues of the conflict, including borders, Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and Palestinian refugees.

(Photo: Marketa Skornickova)