WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry appointed a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, to shepherd Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that begin Monday evening in Washington.
Kerry said a new path toward "reasonable compromise" in the Mideast has emerged, and that Indyk is "realistic" about the difficulties facing the Israelis and Palestinians and U.S. negotiators in the resumption of the long-stalled talks.
At a State Department announcement, Kerry said that "the cause of peace" has been Indyk's life's mission.
Currently at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, Indyk served as former President Bill Clinton's ambassador to Israel and was a key part of the failed 2000 Camp David peace talks. He was also a special assistant to Clinton and senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs at the National Security Council from 1993 to 1995. And, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs in the State Department from 1997 to 2000.
Before working in government, Indyk was founding executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Indyk, 62, replaces David Hale, who had served as a place holder in the post until last month. He had replaced former Sen. George Mitchell as the Obama administration's first special Mideast envoy. Mitchell resigned in 2011 following two years of fruitless and frustrating attempts to get the Israelis and Palestinians to engage in serious negotiations.
Indyk's appointment has been carefully choreographed to come just hours before senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators sit down for a working dinner hosted by Kerry. Kerry spent much of his first six months as America's top diplomat in frenetic diplomacy trying to get the two sides to agree to resume peace talks that broke down in 2008. Since February, he has made six trips to the region shuttling between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to cajole them into returning to negotiations.
Kerry announced on July 19 in Amman, Jordan, that the two sides had reached a basis for returning to the table, but stressed that it still had to be formalized. On Sunday, the State Department announced that the two sides had accepted invitations from Kerry to come to Washington "to formally resume direct final status negotiations."
That followed a decision by Israel's Cabinet to free 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners, a long-standing demand of Abbas.
Abbas has been reluctant to negotiate with Netanyahu, fearing the hard-line Israeli leader will reject what the Palestinians consider minimal territorial demands. 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 to allow Israel to annex some of the dozens of settlements it has built on war-won lands.
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 state of Palestine.
Israel has made no such concessions, at least publicly, and the details of the framework for the talks brokered by Kerry remain shrouded in mystery.