Setting hostility and bloodshed aside
WASHINGTON: The leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to a timetable for talks that would seek to narrow their differences and commit to overcoming the weight of history.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, in their first face-to-face negotiations for more than 20 months, said they were willing to meet again on September 14 and 15, and then every two weeks or so after that.
Their goal is to reach a framework agreement on all the issues dividing them that would pave the way for a comprehensive treaty within the one-year deadline stipulated by the US President, Barack Obama.
Crowning a day of meetings in Washington between Israeli and Palestinian advisers that were hosted by the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and attended by the Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, the Israeli Prime Minister and the president of the Palestinian Authority committed themselves to putting history behind them.
Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas launched into what will be excruciatingly difficult negotiations to bridge differences underscored by decades of bloodshed.
Mr Mitchell, briefing journalists later, said the men were of good faith. They had ''agreed that for these negotiations to succeed, they must be kept private and treated with the utmost sensitivity''.
The focus of their effort will be issues regarding the future of Jerusalem, security and a respite from terrorism, as well as the right of Palestinian refugees to return home.
More pressing is the future of Jewish construction in the West Bank, where 250,000 Israelis live. A part-moratorium on building is due to be lifted on September 25. Mr Abbas wants the freeze extended.
Mrs Clinton encouraged their efforts. She said the core issues - ''territory, security, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and others - will get no easier if we wait, nor will they resolve themselves''.