For the first time in three years on Monday, Israeli and Palestinian officials met for direct talks in Washington which were described as “productive” by the U.S. State Department.
Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat sat down side-by-side opposite U.S. top diplomat John Kerry to share a traditional Muslim itfar meal just after sunset.
The meal was seen as a symbolic message of peace and tolerance.
“It was a constructive and productive meeting between the parties. They engaged in good faith and with seriousness of purpose,” a senior State Department official said in a statement, after the dinner lasting about 90 minutes, according to AFP news agency.
“We are looking forward to continuing the talks tomorrow morning.”
Meanwhile Kerry hailed the moment as “very, very special.” And seeking to break the ice at the landmark meeting, he joked: “There’s not very much to talk about at all!”
Kerry, who was flanked at the dinner by seasoned diplomat Martin Indyk whom he named earlier as the U.S. special envoy to the talks, and by White House Middle East advisory Phil Gordon, had “welcomed the two teams to the flower-bedecked table for a dinner of grilled Atlantic grouper and apricot upside down cake,” reported AFP.
On Tuesday, Kerry will also host a three-way meeting, before making a statement to reporters around 11:00 am (1500 GMT) accompanied by the two negotiators.
President Barack Obama has welcomed the start of the talks, calling it a “promising step” forward but warning of “hard choices.”
“The most difficult work of these negotiations is ahead, and I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith,” he said.
Israel and the Palestinians remain deeply divided over so-called “final status issues” -- including the fate of Jerusalem, claimed by both as a capital, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and the borders of a future Palestinian state complicated by dozens of Jewish settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank.