Israel, Palestinians End First Day Of Talks

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Israeli and Palestinian leaders are discussing the thorniest issues dividing them and are committed to two states for two peoples. That was the word from a latest round of U.S.-mediated peace talks that were held Tuesday in Egypt. The delegations move on to Jerusalem for another round of talks Wednesday.

DAVID GREENE, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm David Greene.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders are tackling the thorniest issues now dividing them, and remained committed to states for two peoples. That's the word from the latest round of U.S.-mediated peace talks today. The meeting was held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The delegations move to Jerusalem for another round of talks tomorrow.

Obama administration officials are sounding hopeful that they will clear the first major hurdle of the talks - a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

From Sharm el-Sheikh, NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: After a longer than expected meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, U.S. Envoy George Mitchell came out to reporters to give a progress report.

Mr. GEORGE MITCHELL (U.S. Envoy): Today, the parties have begun a serious discussion on core issues. President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu also reiterated their intent to approach these negotiations in good faith and with a seriousness of purpose.

KELEMEN: He wouldn't say exactly which of the core issues the two men discussed at this Red Sea resort today. The talks by design are to be private, he said. But it's clear the U.S. wanted them to take up one issue early on - the borders of a future Palestinian state.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained to reporters on the way here, dealing with borders up front could help resolve the big test of these talks, where Israel can resume building once a settlement moratorium expires later this month.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): Because some areas would be inside Israel and some areas would not be inside Israel.

KELEMEN: But Palestinians have threatened to walk out unless the moratorium is extended. Clinton came here calling for a compromise. She reminded reporters on her plane that when Netanyahu first announced the moratorium, everyone in the region criticized it.

Sec. CLINTON: And I took my fair share of that criticism for saying what happened to be the fact that it was an unprecedented decision by an Israeli government. And now we're told that negotiations can't continue unless something that was viewed as being inadequate continues, as well.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration has called on Netanyahu to extend the moratorium. Or short of that, reach some sort of deal with the Palestinians on this. Without offering evidence, Mitchell said the talks are moving in the right direction.

Mr. MITCHELL: We know that this is a politically sensitive issue in Israel. And we have also called on President Abbas to take steps that help encourage and facilitate this process. We believe that both sides have a responsibility to help ensure the peace talks continue in a constructive manner.

KELEMEN: Mitchell says the Palestinian authority president needs to make some gestures to Israel. Israelis, for instance, want Abbas to recognize Israel as a homeland for Jews, just as a future Palestinian state would be a homeland for Palestinians. The talks continue in Jerusalem tomorrow and U.S. officials are hopeful that if they can get past the settlement dispute, Netanyahu and Abbas will meet on a regular basis and come up with a framework for a peace deal within a year.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

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