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Israelis, Palestinians Accept Clinton’s Offer to Restart Talks

Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed Friday that they would restart direct talks early next month with the goal of working toward creating a Palestinian state — and sustained peace in the region — in one year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accepted an invitation from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to begin formal negotiations in a joint meeting with Clinton on Sept. 2. Prior to that, Netanyahu and Abbas will dine with President Barack Obama and Clinton on Sept. 1; Obama will also meet separately with the two leaders before the dinner, Clinton said during a Friday conference call.

“As we move forward, it is important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it. There have been difficulties in the past; there will be difficulties ahead,” she said.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan are also invited to the talks, Clinton said. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who represents the “quartet” of Middle East peacemakers — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — was invited as well.

“I ask the parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times, and to continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region,” Clinton said.

The administration has been pushing for new Middle East peace talks since the last round of negotiations broke down at the end of the Bush administration.

George Mitchell, the special envoy for Middle East peace, said he thought the Middle East leaders decided to come back to the table because they recognized that “this is the right time” to hash out their differences because the United States is prepared to “be active participants,” along with others in the international community.

But Mitchell, a former Democratic Senator from Maine, reiterated that several obstacles remain to achieving peace in the region.

“We are all well aware that there remains mistrust between the parties, a residue of hostility developed over many decades of conflict, many previous efforts that have been made to resolve the conflict that had not succeeded — all of which takes a very heavy toll on both societies and their leaders,” he said.

There are also differences of opinion on both sides on how best to proceed, which is why conflict in the region has remained unresolved for decades and despite numerous efforts, Mitchell said.

“But we do believe that peace in the Middle East, comprehensive peace … is very much in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians,” he added. “We’re going to proceed, as I said, with patience, perseverance and determination.”

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