A spokeswoman for the US State Department confirmed on Sunday that initial talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives would begin in Washington, D.C., on Monday night and continue on Tuesday.
The two delegations are to be led by Tzipi Livni, Israel’s minister of justice, and Saeb Erekat for the Palestinians.
The spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas had agreed that the talks, the first between the two sides in three years, were “an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months,” rather than a move to address the most substantial and controversial issues.
US secretary of state John Kerry said: “Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point. We are grateful for their leadership.”
The talks are proceeding after the Israeli cabinet approved on Sunday the release of 104 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, in the face of sustained political and public opposition overcome by last-minute lobbying of ministers by Netanyahu. In the final tally, 13 ministers voted to approve the release, with 7 opposed and 2 abstentions.
The Palestinian side refused to proceed without an agreement on the release of the prisoners, most of whom are long-term detainees who have become national heroes among many Palestinians. The first batch is expected to be released shortly before the end of Ramadan, with others released in four batches over the coming months, provided negotiations remain on track.
Despite crediting US secretary of state John Kerry with successfully reviving the chances for negotiations with intense “shuttle diplomacy” in recent months, many analysts say that progress towards a final settlement between the two sides faces formidable obstacles.
Previous talks broke down after Israel refused to freeze the construction of settlements on territory occupied after the 1967 Arab–Israeli war. The issue of Israeli settlements remains one of the most fiercely contested topics between the two sides.
The Israeli cabinet also approved plans to hold a referendum on any peace deal that involves offering territorial concessions, while Palestinian leaders have also pledged that any agreement involving trades of territory will be subject to a referendum.