U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has named former Israeli Ambassador Martin Indyk as the chief U.S. negotiator in a new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that are to resume on July 29 in Washington.
Speaking to reporters alongside Kerry ahead of the resumption of talks, Indyk called his task a "haunting and humbling challenge."
"It's been my conviction for 40 years that peace is possible, [ever] since I experienced the agony of the 1973 Yom Kippur war as a student in Jerusalem," he said. "In those dark days I witnessed first-hand how one of your predecessors, [U.S. Secretary of State] Henry Kissinger, brokered a cease-fire that ended the war and paved the way for peace between Israel and Egypt."
Indyk, 62, served twice as Washington's ambassador to Jerusalem and was a key part of the failed 2000 Camp David peace talks hosted by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. He is currently vice president of the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.
The carefully choreographed announcement came hours before teams led by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat were scheduled to meet for an Iftar dinner hosted by Kerry to break the fast observed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Talks will continue for a full day on July 30 to address the framework for full negotiations.
Kerry spent much of his first six months as secretary of state engaged in shuttle diplomacy, making six trips to the region in an effort to push Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas toward the resumption of talks. He has argued that the recent upheaval in the wider Middle East makes the peace process all the more crucial.
He stressed compromise in what is intended to be about nine months of intensive negotiations.
"Going forward it's no secret that this is a difficult process," he said. "If it were easy it would have happened a long time ago. It's no secret, therefore, that many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders, as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional, and symbolic issues. I think reasonable compromise has to be a keystone of all of this effort."
In a statement released later on July 29, U.S. President Barack Obama called the resumption of talks "a promising step forward."
The president said, "I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith and with sustained focus and determination."
Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen since September 2010. Then, the Palestinians terminated contacts with the Jewish state after it refused to extend a moratorium on settlement-building in the West Bank.
The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem -- territories Israel captured in 1967 -- but have accepted the principle of limited land swaps.
Abbas had repeatedly said he will only go to talks if Israel either freezes settlement-building or recognizes the 1967 lines as a starting point for drawing the border of a Palestinian state.
Israel has made no such concessions, at least publicly, and the details of the framework for the brokered talks remain shrouded in secrecy.
On July 27, Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners, many convicted of killing Israelis, in an effort to help restart talks.
Opinion polls among both Israelis and Palestinians suggest expectations are low for the new negotiations.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and "The Washington Post"