Attacks accompany first direct Mideast talks in years
With animosity and distrust high, the Israeli-Palestinian talks were shrouded in secrecy, lest any detail leak out and further inflame participants.
The New York Times
JERUSALEM — Shortly before Israelis and Palestinians sat down Wednesday for the first substantive negotiations in nearly five years, Israeli warplanes struck two sites in Gaza in response to rockets fired from the Palestinian enclave.
The rocket fire and counterattack demonstrated the obstacles the talks face in achieving the U.S. government’s stated goal of reaching a resolution within nine months. With animosity and distrust high, the talks were shrouded in secrecy, lest any detail leak out and further inflame the participants.
An Israeli official involved in the process said the idea was for “serious, intensive and intimate negotiations” aimed at achieving the most progress possible with the least amount of public engagement.
The site of the talks and when they were to start were not disclosed. Late Wednesday, both sides confirmed the meeting had ended after several hours. A Palestinian official said they had agreed to meet weekly, alternating between Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Jericho. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sides’ commitment to maintain secrecy. No details were available.
The Israeli team is being led by the justice minister, Tzipi Livni, and Isaac Molho, the special envoy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; the Palestinian side by senior negotiators Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh.
Martin Indyk, the senior U.S. envoy to the talks, and the deputy envoy, Frank Lowenstein, were also in Jerusalem.
The secrecy did little to disguise the issues that continued to fuel distrust and animosity between the parties. Israel’s decisions in recent days to continue building settler housing in disputed areas has infuriated the Palestinians. And rockets fired from Gaza into Israel underlined the simmering tensions and potential for confrontation in the volatile area after weeks of relative quiet.
The Israeli military said it hit concealed rocket launchers in the northern Gaza Strip after a rocket fired from the Palestinian coastal territory, which is controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, landed in an open area across the border.
Israel is conducting peace negotiations with Hamas’ arch rivals, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, who exercise limited self-rule in the West Bank. The goal of the talks is to reach a final settlement for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But many Israelis and Palestinians are skeptical about the outcome.
Among other things, Israelis point out that the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has no control over what happens in Gaza.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.