Abbas, Netanyahu to relaunch peace talks

Israeli and Palestinian leaders are set to resume direct talks on Thursday, seeking to clinch an elusive peace deal for the Middle East within a year against a backdrop of renewed violence.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas prepared to sit down for their first direct talks in 20 months, Hamas claimed responsibility for the West Bank shooting of two Israelis.
US President Barack Obama called on both sides not to let slip a fleeting opportunity for peace, a Palestinian state and a Israel within a year, as he gathered the two leaders, with King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the White House on Wednesday.
“This moment of opportunity may not soon come again,” said Obama, who met the leaders separately, and then hosted a dinner that also included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and diplomatic Quartet representative Tony Blair.
Netanyahu vowed to forge a “historic” peace with the Palestinians and Abbas met hawkish Netanyahu’s conciliatory rhetoric by calling for an end to bloodshed after the latest Hamas attacks, but also demanded a halt to Israel settlement activity.
Netanyahu’s dramatic opening gambit came during a press appearance in the East Room of the White House that saw the leaders promise to search in good faith for peace after decades of strife.
“President Abbas, you are my partner in peace,” Netanyahu said.
“I came here today to find an historic compromise that will enable both our peoples to live in peace and security and dignity.”
But Netanyahu’s warm words did not disguise the steel of his position.
Abbas demanded a total freeze on settlement activity — without which Palestinians have threatened to walk out of the peace talks.
Thursday’s direct talks, the outcome of painstaking US diplomacy, will take place with few participants or observers predicting success amid widespread regional distrust.
The issues on the table at the US-mediated talks — the status of Jerusalem, security, the borders of a Palestinian state and the right of return for Palestinian refugees — have confounded all previous mediation attempts.
Despite his vow to shepherd the peace talks, Obama warned that the United States could not simply impose a solution to the decades-long conflict.
“We cannot want it more than the parties themselves,” he said.
Clinton, Netanyahu and Mahmud Abbas will all make opening statements to the media at the start of their meeting, due to begin at 10:00 am (1400 GMT).