(CBS NEWS) -- Israeli and Palestinian teams headed to Washington Monday for
preliminary talks on resuming formal negotiations after five years of
Both sides emphasized that many obstacles
stand between them and a final deal on setting up a Palestinian state
Talks will be complex, said Israel's
chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni. She said she was heading to the
Washington meetings, which were to begin later Monday, "cautiously, but
also with hope."
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian
spokeswoman, said the upcoming talks are being held under more difficult
conditions than previous negotiations. She cited the Palestinian
political split, with Western-backed moderates and Islamic militants
running rival governments, and the more hawkish positions of Israel's
prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, compared to his predecessor.
"But I think there is a recognition of the urgency," she said. "If we don't move fast and decisively, things could fall apart."
The preliminary talks in Washington were made possible after Israel's Cabinet on Sunday agreed in principle to release 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners, convicted of offenses including the killing or wounding of Israelis and the killing of suspected Palestinian collaborators.
The prisoners are to be released in four stages, with each release linked to progress in negotiations.
resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian contacts was a result of six
months of shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Neither side appeared upbeat, despite the possibility of renewed
talks. Each has blamed the other for the lack of success in 20 years of
negotiations, and Kerry's only success so far has been to get the
parties back to the table.
The prisoner release, approved 13-7 with two abstentions, is a key part of the Kerry-brokered deal.
Monday meeting in Washington, the State Department said, is designed to
prepare for six to nine months of negotiations on setting up a
Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The department said
Kerry called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas and invited them to send teams to Washington.
is expected to announce his appointment of Martin Indyk as the United
State's new Middle East envoy, CBS News confirmed. Indyk, a former U.S
ambassador to Israel, heads foreign policy studies at the Brookings
Institution think tank.
Netanyahu, seeking to overcome
stiff opposition from ultra-nationalists, told his Cabinet that
"resuming the political process at this time is important for Israel,"
noting that any deal would be submitted to a national referendum.
chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, welcomed the vote on the
prisoners as a "step toward peace," one he said is long overdue.
made progress in previous rounds, and the outlines of a deal have
emerged -- a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank, Gaza and east
Jerusalem, lands captured by Israel in 1967, with border adjustments to
enable Israel to annex land with a majority of nearly 600,000 settlers.
negotiations broke down before the sides could tackle the most
explosive issues -- a partition of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian
refugees and their descendants, now several million people.
David Miller, a former senior U.S. advisor on Arab-Israeli security,
told CBS New correspondent Margaret Brennan the gap between the sides on
the border and security issues is not that large. However, when it
comes to the issues of Jerusalem and refugees, "think Grand Canyon."
Abbas remains leery of negotiating with Netanyahu, fearing any offer
made by the hard-liner would fall far short of Palestinian demands, so
he has insisted on a clear framework for negotiations.
said over the weekend that Kerry assured him the invitation to the
negotiators will say border talks are based on the 1967 line, though
Netanyahu has not said whether he has dropped his long-standing
opposition to that demand.
In Washington, the Israeli and
Palestinian teams are supposed to close the remaining gaps on the
framework for talks, and they could well falter at that early point.
release of veteran prisoners could help Abbas persuade a skeptical
Palestinian public that it's worthwhile returning to negotiations.
has repeatedly called for a resumption of negotiations that broke down
in 2008, but he has not sketched the outlines of a deal he would be
willing to strike, except to say he opposes a partition of Jerusalem.
Sunday's Cabinet meeting, he pushed through the prisoner release
despite opposition by two ministers in his Likud Party and by those from
a main coalition partner, the pro-settler Jewish Home Party.
the government complex, hundreds protested against a release. Among
them were families of Israelis killed in attacks by Palestinian
militants. Some held up pictures of their loved ones.
Bennett, the head of Jewish Home, briefly joined the protesters before
attending the Cabinet meeting. "It's a hard day, the decision was made
and I hope we won't pay a horrible price for this in the future," he
said after the vote.
In the West Bank and Gaza, some
relatives of prisoners anxiously awaited word. "Now there is a big
relief," said Walid Abu Muhsen, 45, whose brother Jamal has been in
prison for the past 22 years for killing an Israeli farmer.
first disagreements emerged just hours after the Cabinet vote,
reflecting the hostility and deep mistrust between the two sides.
the deal brokered by Kerry, Israel is supposed to free 104 prisoners
who carried out attacks before the first interim peace agreements of the
Palestinian negotiators handed Kerry a list
of 104 prisoners, arrested between 1983 and 1994. They said Kerry
assured them Israel would release the prisoners in four stages over
several months, with each release linked to progress in negotiations.
the 104 prisoners on the Palestinian list are two dozen who either have
Israeli citizenship or come from Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. In the
past, Israeli media have said Israel would not free them.
Sunday evening, an official in Netanyahu's office said that no Israeli
Arabs are among the 104 whose release was authorized by the Cabinet.
Asked to explain the discrepancy, he said Israel holds more than 104
"pre-Oslo" prisoners, suggesting the two sides apply different
Issa Qarakeh, the Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs, responded angrily.
agreement with Kerry was that all the pre-Oslo prisoners, including
Israeli Arabs and east Jerusalem residents, will be released," he said.
"If they (Israelis) exclude any of them, there will be a problem that
might hinder the talks."
Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher said that a prisoner release in stages gives Netanyahu additional leverage during negotiations.
has given himself a carrot that he can hold out to the Palestinians,"
he said. "Netanyahu can refuse to release the later batches if there's