US Middle East envoy George Mitchell will conduct the talks by shuttling between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian and Israeli officials said. Mitchell has spent more than a year shuttling between the leaders to revive the peace process that began in the early 1990s and has produced rounds of talks but no settlement.
There have been no negotiations since December, 2008, when Israel launched an offensive in Gaza.
The United States has sought to revive the peace process, calling the conflict a “vital national security interest”.
But many doubt whether the latest US effort can succeed where years of diplomacy have failed. Indirect talks are a far cry from the face-to-face negotiations of the past.
Netanyahu welcomed the resumption of peace talks.
“Israel’s position was and remains that the talks ought to be conducted without preconditions and should quickly lead to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.
Speaking after Mitchell met Abbas in Ramallah yesterday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians wanted to build on past negotiations.
“We do not want to begin from zero,” he said.
“We believe the time is not for negotiations but decisions,” he said, adding that an initial four months of indirect talks would focus on the issues of the borders of a future Palestinian state and security.
In Washington, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley welcomed the PLO’s decision as “an important and welcome step”.
Erekat said Mitchell would make a statement on Sunday including details on when the talks would start. Mitchell is due to meet Abbas again today before departing, he added.