U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Israeli and Palestinian leaders have begun to grapple with key issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Clinton is mediating further direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on September 15 in Jerusalem. They follow Clinton's three-way talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas in Egypt on September 14.
"We are here today because we are convinced that the legitimate aspirations of these two peoples are not incompatible. We are also convinced that peace is both necessary and possible and that this is a moment of opportunity that must be seized," Clinton said.
Special Mideast envoy George Mitchell, who is accompanying Clinton, said the opening of this round of talks, in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on September 14, showed a "seriousness of purpose."
"Today the parties have begun a serious discussion on core issues. [Palestinian Authority] President Abbas and [Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu also reiterated their intent to approach these negotiations in good faith and with a seriousness of purpose," Mitchell said.
However, one of the core issues in particular has the potential to blow the talks apart. It's the question of the building of Jewish settlements on the Palestinian West Bank
With the worst possible timing, the present Israeli restrictions on settlement construction are due to expire by the end of this month.
The Palestinian side is threatening to walk out of the peace talks unless the 10-month-long moratorium is extended, but Netanyahu appears to have ruled that out.
He has said some of the restrictions contained in the moratorium may stay in place, but that Israel does not intend to "freeze the lives" of settlers already in West Bank settlements.
The United States has been pressing for Israel to renew the moratorium as a "sensible" step, but Netanyahu is under intense pressure from right-wing settler elements in his ruling coalition not to do so. The settlers have said they will bring down the government if Netanyahu gives way.
Clinton is expected to press for a compromise on the settlements issue at the Jerusalem talks.
The other core issues are Israel's security, the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and the future of Jerusalem.
Clinton launched the new direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in Washington in early September, with officials saying the goal is to reach a settlement on the major issues within one year.