- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 28, 2013

Israel and the Palestinian Authority will resume peace talks Monday in Washington after a three-year break, the result of months of lobbying and a personal invitation over the weekend by Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

Mr. Kerry called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday and asked them to send senior negotiators to Washington to resume direct talks, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The talks will begin Monday and extend into Tuesday.

“Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point,” Mr. Kerry said in a prepared statement. “We are grateful for their leadership.”

Some foreign policy insiders have criticized the Obama administration for abandoning the Middle East by pursuing a self-described “pivot” to Asia — emphasizing new security and economic relations with China, other Pacific Rim nations and India.

But recent months have seen Mr. Kerry travel more often to the Middle East than anywhere else. While his efforts have ranged from attempting to build a coherent U.S. policy toward the ongoing civil war in Syria to managing the U.S. posture toward social and political upheaval in such nations as Egypt, the secretary of state has also eagerly sought to usher in a new era of talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. Kerry foreshadowed the negotiations July 19 in Jordan, when he said the two parties had reached an agreement on the basis for resuming negotiations, according to the State Department.

“The meetings in Washington will mark the beginning of these talks,” Ms. Psaki said. “They will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months.”

Prior negotiations broke down in 2010 because of a dispute over Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, but Mr. Netanyahu’s government cleared the way for talks by releasing 104 Palestinian prisoners convicted of carrying out deadly attacks, according to Reuters news agency.

Mr. Netanyahu, on a translated version of his Facebook page, said the decision to release the prisoners was a difficult one.

“It is painful for bereaved families, is painful to Israel, and it hurts me a lot,” he said.

The Israelis will be represented in Washington by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho, and the Palestinians will send Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh, the State Department said.

At the end of last week, President Obama made another move toward the Palestinians, ordering another waiver of congressional restrictions on direct funding of the Palestinian Authority, clearing the way for more U.S. aid.

In the one-page order, Mr. Obama said he was taking the action due to the “national security interests” of the U.S. The president in March directed about $500 million to be sent to the Palestinian Authority, also waiving the restrictions set by Congress. At the time, Mr. Kerry said he was seeking to move another $200 million to the Palestinians.

An administration official said Friday the president will send $148 million to the Palestinian Authority, calling it “the most immediate and efficient means of helping the PA maintain and build the foundations of a viable, peaceful Palestinian state.”

⦁ Guy Taylor and Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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