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Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times
Washington DC, July 30, 2013
West Asia peace talks have resumed on a positive note with Israel and Palestine agreeing on Tuesday to try for a deal to end their dispute in the next nine months.
Their negotiators will be meeting again in two weeks, said US secretary of state John Kerry, flanked by Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Saeb Erakat.

He said the two sides were committed to “sustained, continuous and substantive negotiations on the core issues” that divided them. Their next meeting will be in the region.

The vexed West Asia peace process restarted Monday after three years with no expectations other than to get the Israelis and Palestinians talking for the next nine months at least.

The talks followed months of shuttle diplomacy starting with US President Barack Obama visiting Israel and Ramallah in March, with then newly appointed secretary of state Kerry.

“The most difficult work of these negotiations is ahead,” said President Obama before the start of the talks on Monday. He met the negotiators Tuesday morning.

Kerry held preliminary talks with Livni and Erakat Monday night over a 90-minute Ramzan fast-breaking dinner that included Atlantic grouper and saffron faro risotto.

Talks continued on Tuesday, with a joint media appearance. Their limited agenda for this round was to fix a time and location for the next round, which they did.

They were not to discuss the contentious issues of Israeli settlements outside 1967 border, Israel’s security concerns or the status of Palestinian refugees. Each of those is a deal-breaker.

But they will be discussed as talks get underway as, the Palestinian negotiator Eraket said in his brief remarks said, every issue was on the table, “without exception”.

US has named former diplomat Martin Indyk as a special envoy to Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations to work on “a day-to-day basis” with the parties wherever they are negotiating.

West Asia has been a foreign policy challenge for many US presidents. Obama took a shot at it in his first term, but abandoned it when it didn’t go the way he wanted it to.

He is trying once again, with Kerry firmly of the view it’s possible and that the US can no longer stand on the sidelines.

But given the turmoil in the region -- Egypt and Syria -- experts believe both sides will find it hard to concede much, which is essential to forging a compromise.

India would be watching the negotiations closely. It supports a two-state solution to the dispute, recognizing the rights of both Israel and Palestine to exist.