Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (left) delivering a speech in the West Bank city of Bethlehem in August 2009; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in Jerusalem in June 2010.
Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to resume long-stalled direct peace negotiations on Sept. 2 in Washington, with the goal of reaching a settlement within a year. The Obama administration has conducted shuttle diplomacy for months in an attempt to bring the two sides to the table.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders will tackle their toughest disputes in direct talks beginning early next month in Washington, U.S. officials announced Friday.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued the invitation to the two sides, asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to launch the talks in Washington on Sept. 2.
Clinton conceded that there would be difficulties ahead. "Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles," but she added that negotiators should be able to reach a comprehensive peace agreement within one year.
She said President Obama has invited the leaders to bilateral meetings on the day before the talks.
U.S. special envoy George Mitchell told reporters at the State Department that the mediators facilitating the talks would "proceed with patience, perseverance and determination," but he said that the initiative should come from the two parties themselves.
The U.S. has been working with the two sides as part of an effort launched by the so-called Quartet, a diplomatic team of negotiators from the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. The Quartet, whose lead negotiator is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, issued a statement saying it would support the parties during the talks.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II also have been invited to Washington to attend the talks, Clinton said.
In comments before Clinton's announcement, Israeli officials said they were waiting to hear the details of the invitation to the talks, but repeated their position that they were opposed to any "preconditions" from the Palestinians.
Palestinian officials said they would participate in the talks if the Clinton statement met the terms they have called for in the past.
The talks would be the first direct negotiations between the two sides since December 2008. Indirect talks, known as "proximity talks," have been going on since May, with Mitchell shuttling between teams of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
The issues to be discussed are the most difficult remaining before the Israelis and the Palestinians can reach a peace deal that would create an independent Palestinian state and security assurances for Israel.
They include the status of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital city, and the question of whether Palestinians who fled Israel during the fighting in 1948 -- and their descendents -- have a right to return to the properties their forebears left behind.
Other issues are the question of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the borders of a proposed Palestinian state. When the proximity talks began, Netanyahu said that all issues would be on the table, but only after the primary issue -- Israeli security -- had been discussed. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.