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Cheat sheet for fresh Mideast peace talks

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Israel and the Palestinians are set to resume peace talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday, and have set themselves a nine-month goal of trying to reach a long elusive peace deal.

Here's what we know -- and what we don't -- about the latest US-led effort to bring peace to the Middle East, with the aim of creating a two-state solution with Israelis and Palestinians living peacefully side-by-side.

NEGOTIATORS

Israelis: Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, legal adviser Yitzhak Molcho

Palestinians: Chief negotiator Saeb Erakat, Fatah central committee member Mohammad Shtayyeh

United States: Former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, dubbed "the facilitator" who could be backed at key moments by either US Secretary of State John Kerry or even President Barack Obama

TIMETABLE

After initial discussions about the talks themselves in Washington at the end of July, negotiations begin on Wednesday, just hours after Israel freed 26 long-term Palestinian prisoners.

After that the tempo is expected to pick up.

Both sides have agreed to try to reach an agreement within nine months, no matter what "provocations" there are.

Further talks could be held either in the region or in Washington.

ISSUES

All the so-called "final status" issues -- the right of return for some five million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Jerusalem, the existence of Jewish settlements -- are on the table.

Israel has dashed any hopes for a halt to settlement building during the talks, which was a key Palestinian demand. Indeed, the government approved construction of more than 2,100 new settlement units in the days leading up to the talks, with a minister pledging to build thousands more in the coming year.

The US position that a future Palestinian state should be based on the 1967 borders with mutual land swaps has not changed. But it is uncertain that this is the basis for the new negotiations.

Israel has agreed to a key Palestinian demand to release 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners and completed the release of the first 26 before the Jerusalem meeting. The dates for releasing the remaining prisoners will be decided by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

All sides have agreed to keep the details of the discussions top secret to give the negotiations the best chance to work.

NEXT MOVES

Washington has been working with the Middle East Quartet on a plan to attract some $4 billion (3.0 billion euros) in private investment to boost the Palestinian economy, which the State Department says it will roll out in the coming weeks.

In July, Kerry said Israel would be taking steps "to improve conditions in the West Bank and in Gaza". That could mean lifting some road blocks and bureaucratic hurdles to help the economy, but as yet there have been no notable moves in this direction.

Both Israel and the Palestinians have said any deal would be put to a public referendum.

WHAT WE DON'T KNOW

Everything else, including the big question of what a future deal will look like. There is no indication of how the talks will roll out, only an awareness that the "clock is ticking".

The parties have not decided yet how the core issues will be negotiated and no one is revealing whether there have been any mutual understanding, agreements or commitments as the basis for the talks.

How they intend to resolve such heart-and-soul issues as the holy city of Jerusalem, claimed by both sides as their capital, and the hopes of millions of Palestinians, who dream of returning to their homeland, remains as yet a mystery.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130814/cheat-sheet-fresh-mideast-peace-talks