Israel to host next round of talks with Palestinians
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The next Israeli-Palestinian peace talks session will be held in Israel in the second week of August and a first group of Palestinian prisoners will be freed by then, Israel's chief negotiator said on Friday.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Israel's Channel 10 television that the parties had agreed on alternating venues for talks in initial meetings with the first to be held in Israel.
"We and the Palestinians both determined that the first meetings would be held once in Israel and once in the Palestinian Authority ... we want to do it directly (and close to home). The next meeting will be in the second week of August in Israel," she said in a broadcast interview.
Livni added that the prisoners would be freed "by that time" but did not give a more specific timetable, saying that the case of each inmate slated for release still had to be scrutinized before final approval.
Last week, the Israeli Cabinet approved the release of 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners in stages according to progress in the talks. Thousands more remain in Israeli jails.
The parties held their first peace talks in nearly three years in Washington this week hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who said the "objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months".
The United States wants to broker an agreement on a two-state solution, in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands occupied by the Israelis since a 1967 war.
The last direct talks collapsed in late 2010 over Israel's building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The major "final status" issues to be resolved include borders, the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.
Kerry said Israel had agreed to take unspecified steps to ease the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, which is ruled by a Palestinian Authority dominated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, and the Gaza Strip, where the Islamist Hamas group holds sway.
Livni told Channel 10 that both sides had approached the talks in a businesslike manner.
"My impression was that ... the Palestinian party did not enter the room in order to blame Israel ... this will be their test, anybody who enters the room knows roughly how (talks) should end," she said.