Middle East

Q&A: Israeli-Palestinian talks in Jerusalem

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the press with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat (R) and Israel"s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (L) at the State Department in Washington on July 30, 2013.
Image caption The Palestinians are represented by senior negotiator Saeb Erekat (R), while Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (L) will represent Israel

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are restarting peace talk on 14 August in Jerusalem under US mediation.

The two sides are meeting for the first time in nearly three years to negotiate an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on the two-state solution formula.

Who is taking part in the negotiations?

In Jerusalem, the Palestinians will be represented by senior negotiator Saeb Erekat and senior Fatah official Muhammed Shtayyeh. Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni and prime ministerial aide Isaac Molcho will represent the Israeli side.

US Middle East Peace Envoy Martin Indyk and his deputy, Frank Lowenstein, have been named as envoys to the meeting.

Since his appointment in February, US Secretary of State John Kerry has invested much political capital and time in convincing the two sides to resume talks.

What has happened so far?

The two sides met with US mediators on 29 and 30 July in Washington to officially launch the peace talks.

This came after Mr Kerry got the parties to agree to resume negotiations. The terms of the deal he hammered out have not been disclosed.

But as part of the process, Israel has agreed to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners. This began with 26 in the early hours of 14 August.

The Palestinians, for their part, are expected to refrain from upgrading their membership of UN agencies.

The resumption of talks was preceded by the Israeli government's announcement of the construction of some 2,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians voiced dismay but Mr Kerry said the move was "not unexpected".

Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

What are they talking about?

Mr Kerry said in late July that all final-status issues - Jerusalem, borders, security arrangements, settlements and Palestinian refugees - would be on the table.

He did not specify a timetable and added that both sides had agreed to keep the contents of meetings confidential.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an April meeting with Mr Kerry that Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would be among the first issues.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Cairo in July that the talks would focus first on borders and security.

What's the timeframe for the peace process?

The US has announced that final-status talks will be held for nine months. Officials on the two sides have indicated their agreement to this.

After the initial Jerusalem talks, the parties will meet later in Jericho in the West Bank, although a date for this round has not yet been set.

Why is it so hard to reach agreement?

The negotiations will resume amid challenging circumstances for both sides.

The Palestinians are divided politically between the West Bank-based Fatah and Islamist Hamas movement, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, and has condemned the talks.

Some other Palestinian groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), staged protests against the talks.

Mr Netanyahu also faces internal challenges. Despite the public support for peace talks, some of his coalition partners - for example the Jewish Home party - and members of his own Likud party oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state.

More importantly, the two sides appear to have wide gaps separating their optimal positions. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their state, an idea that is vehemently opposed by some parties in the Israeli cabinet, who maintain Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel.

Mr Netanyahu's government is likely to insist on keeping some Israeli settlements in the West Bank or East Jerusalem as part of a final deal. Previous talks have suggested mutually-agreed land swaps with the Palestinians as a way to achieve this.

What has been agreed in previous deals?

The 1993 Oslo accords ushered in a new era with the formation of the Palestinian Authority as an interim body and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

But the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 put the process on hold. Subsequent Israeli governments carried out more territorial withdrawals and signed further economic agreements, but without ending the conflict..

In September 2008, the two sides appeared to be close to signing a final peace deal during talks between former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mr Abbas. However, this round ended fruitlessly after Mr Olmert's resignation over corruption charges and the alleged refusal by Mr Abbas to accept the Israeli offer.

What is at stake for the rest of the region?

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has long been seen as a driver of negative sentiment towards Israel in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.

But the talks are resuming against the backdrop of regional upheavals after the Arab Spring. Since 2011, many neighbouring Arab countries, especially Egypt and Syria, have been in turmoil.

At stake is also the legacy of the Obama administration, and its push for better ties with the Muslim world.

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