US-brokered Palestinian-Israeli talks begin under cloud of skepticism

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Renewed talks between Palestinian and Israeli officials are about to resume in the United States, while Washington's man in the talks, Secretary of State John Kerry has already acknowledged that there would be difficulties on the way. Israel's cabinet promised to free dozens of long-held Palestinian prisoners apparently as a bargaining chip ahead of the talks. The new round of negotiations, however, may be just the start of a long series of talks that could easily exceed Barack Obama's remaining three years in office. The Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas wants a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem al-Quds, but has accepted the possibility of limited land swaps. Abbas has repeatedly said he will only go to talks if Israel freezes settlement building, and recognizes the 1967 borders as a starting point to draw territorial lines. But just getting to an initial agreement on these issues will be very challenging. The announcement of renewed talks comes under a cloud of skepticism whatsoever. Tel Aviv has been resistant to the idea of land swaps and adhering to 1967 borders. Israeli officials have also reiterated in recent days that they will continue with their settlement activities, which are illegal under international law. Experts say for there to be any honest agreement both sides must be committed to lasting peace. Adding to the complexity of talks is the fate of Palestinian prisoners. Palestinians see the prisoners as their heroes and freedom fighters, which is not exactly the viewpoint of Tel Aviv, which has been holding them in its jails for years. Officials will be meeting in Washington to look at ways to progress talks later this year. The US State Department said they would try to establish a work plan for broader negotiations, which could take at least six to nine months. The last round of Middle East peace talks broke down three years ago

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