US President Barack Obama met privately on Tuesday with lead Israeli and Palestinian negotiators the day after they restarted long-stalled peace negotiations in Washington, a White House official said.
The meeting at the White House came after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held their first peace talks in nearly three years on Monday in a US-brokered effort that US Secretary of State John Kerry hopes will end their conflict despite deep divisions.
Obama has so far stood back from the process, leaving it to Kerry to lead the effort to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the table.
The renewed negotiations are part of a peace push for the Middle East by the United States, and were announced earlier this month by US Secretary of State John Kerry. These initial stages see chief negotiators Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat for the Palestinians meeting in Washington for preliminary talks.
The talks are expected to run for nine months. While Kerry has urged the two sides to strike "reasonable compromises," there are major disagreements on issues such as borders and security.
In an interview with Israel Radio on Tuesday morning, Livni said she believes that Israel does not have the option of conceding defeat on a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians, and that such an agreement is in fact possible. She expressed a hopeful note at the outset of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. There was, she said, a positive atmosphere at the US State Department dinner on Monday night that served as the official start of the negotiations, three years after the last talks ended in failure.
Livni refused to elaborate further on the content of Monday night's meeting, saying that there has been a decision to keep what is said behind closed doors.
"This is part and parcel of creating mutual trust between [us and the Palestinians]," she said.
Livni and Erekat were joined at the dinner by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho and Fatah official Muhammad Shtayyeh. The dinner also served as the Iftar meal, which sees Muslims end their daily fast during the month of Ramadan.
As the sides came together Monday, Kerry met separately with each, starting with the Israelis, before all met around the dinner table. Kerry and his delegation of four, including new envoy Indyk, were seated on one side of the table and their guests on the other side, with the two main negotiators Livni and Erekat seated side by side.
"We are after about four years of stagnation and in the past we negotiated but we reached a dead end. I hope there is a better understanding now that it is in the interest of both of our people to reach an agreement to end this conflict," Livni said in an interview with Reuters Television in Washington ahead of the dinner.