Israel Welcomes Start of Direct Palestinian Talks

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he welcomed the U.S. invitation to start direct talks with the Palestinian Authority, slated to begin September 1.

"We are coming to the talks with a real desire to achieve a peace agreement between the two peoples, while safeguarding Israel's national interests, foremost security," Netanyahu told cabinet ministers on Sunday.

"We are seeking to surprise the critics and the skeptics, but in order to do this we need a real partner on the Palestinian side," he said.

"Security, recognition of the national state of the Jewish people, and the end of the conflict - these are the three components that will ensure us a real and lasting peace agreement," Netanyahu said.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas is less optimistic. He's predicting the talks will fail once Israel's 10-month construction moratorium in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) ends on September 26.

In a letter penned on his behalf by PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, sent to leaders of the Quartet - United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia - Abbas said he will pull out of talks if construction resumes.

"…the shortest way to peace is ending the Israeli occupation of all territory occupied since 1967, including east Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Arab Golan and the remaining Lebanese territories and the establishment of an independent state of Palestine with its capital in east Jerusalem to live in peace and security with Israel on the border of the fourth of June 1967 and solve all final status issues, especially the refugee issue based on international legitimacy resolutions related to and release all prisoners and the bodies of the martyrs as an entry point to end the conflict and achieve comprehensive and just peace and lasting peace in the region."

But despite a pervading skepticism after years of failed talks, Israeli political analyst Dr. Raanan Gissin sees a window of opportunity in the latest round of negotiations, not just for Israel but for the moderate Arab states, such as Egypt and Jordan.

"Both sides - Israel and the Palestinians - care about what America thinks," Gissin told CBN News. "America is the only actor that can play that kind of role," he said.

Gissin said radical elements interested in foiling the process - such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah in Lebanon - all under Iranian influence, make the chances to move ahead somewhat slimmer.

"There is a lot riding on it," he said. "Quiet diplomacy is what is needed. The two sides must determine areas we can agree upon," he said. 

"If no major provocation disrupts the talks, the two sides can restart the process with quiet diplomacy, minus sweeping public declarations, to create a better atmosphere," Gissin said.

Meanwhile, Hamas cancelled reconciliation talks with the PA's Fatah faction based on the decision to enter direct talks with Israel.

Hamas spokesman Salah Bardawil said the PLO's decision to support the talks "made it too difficult" to meet with Fatah, the Ma'an News Agency reported.

But even with the heightened tension and "the potential spectacular terrorist activity" to scuttle the process, Gissin believes there is a "serious chance" it will work this time if no one pulls out of the talks.

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Tzippe Barrow

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From her perch high atop the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, Tzippe Barrow helps provide a bird’s eye view of events unfolding in her country.

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