U.S. to support peace talks in Jerusalem, West Bank

Aug. 9, 2013 at 2:30 AM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- U.S. envoys will support Round 2 of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Jerusalem next week, followed by talks in the West Bank, the State Department said.

U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Martin Indyk and Frank Lowenstein, his deputy, will travel to Israel to "help facilitate" the Wednesday negotiations, spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

After the Jerusalem talks, the negotiators plan to hold another session in Jericho on the West Bank, Psaki said without giving a date for that meeting.

The two sides resumed talks in Washington last week after Secretary of State John Kerry made resurrecting peace talks a key priority.

Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United States have committed to nine months of negotiations to reach a comprehensive peace agreement that would establish an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

As part of a deal that led to the talks' resumption, Israel promised to release 26 Palestinian prisoners Tuesday, the day before the next talks, officials said. The release is part of a phased freeing of 104 prisoners serving at least 20 years for attacks on Israelis.

To build support for the talks, Kerry met privately at the White House Thursday night with representatives of the American Jewish Committee and other leading American Jewish organizations.

A similar White House session with Arab-American leaders was scheduled for Friday morning.

Kerry told the Jewish leaders peace was a "strategic imperative" for Israelis and Palestinians and warned of "negative consequences" for Israel if the sides don't reach an agreement, The Jerusalem Post reported, citing people who attended.

Kerry also expressed irritation with Israel's persistent settlement building in the West Bank, the newspaper said.

Kerry received a letter earlier in the day from Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat protesting Israel's preliminary approval to build more than 800 new homes in the West Bank, The New York Times reported.

Unless Israeli settlement activity stops, Erekat said in the letter, it is difficult to see how direct negotiations "will bring about progress towards a peace agreement."

The State Department said Thursday Washington "made its concerns known" to Jerusalem.

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