Israel and the Palestinians plan to resume peace negotiations this week for the first time in nearly three years after an intense effort by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to bring them back to the table.
The talks are scheduled to resume in Washington on Monday (July 29) evening and will be conducted by senior aides to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the State Department said.
Middle East analysts voiced scepticism that the talks might lead to a peace treaty to end the more than six-decade conflict that has defied two decades of U.S. efforts to broker a solution.
Still, the resumption of negotiations is a rare moment of good news in the Middle East for the Obama administration, which has struggled to formulate a policy to try to end the civil war in Syria or to facilitate a democratic transition in Egypt.
Even getting the Israelis and the Palestinians to agree to resume talks required great effort by Kerry, who made six peace-making trips to the region in the last four months - an unusual amount of time - to coax them back.
The last piece of the puzzle came together when the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday (July 28) approved the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, with 13 ministers voting for the release, seven against and two abstaining, an Israeli official said.
The last round of direct negotiations broke down in late 2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, land that Israel seized in a 1967 war, along with the Gaza Strip, which the Palestinians want for a state.
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