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Middle East peace talks resume today in Washington

The US is due to broker the first direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks since 2010.

US Israel Palestine peace talks resume 29 7 2013Enlarge
Secretary of State John Kerry is joined by Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas at the King Hussein Convention Centre on May 26, 2013. Kerry is due to mediate direct Israeli-Palestinian talks in Washington, DC, on July 29, 2013. (Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — Senior Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were due to meet in Washington, DC, on Monday for their first direct peace talks since 2010.

Announcing the meeting Sunday, the United States said it was "looking forward to beginning these substantive discussions and in moving forward toward a final status agreement."

The talks come the day after Israel agreed to a Palestinian demand for the release of more than 100 Palestinian prisoners, in what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a tough decision "for the good of the nation."

According to a statement from the US State Department, the Israeli and Palestinian delegations will meet first on Monday evening and again on Tuesday. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni will lead Israel's team, while the Palestinians will be represented by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

More from GlobalPost: Israeli-Palestinian peace talks: What does each side want?

US Secretary of State John Kerry will host Monday's less formal meeting. It will begin with iftar, the meal Muslims have at the end of each day of fasting during Ramadan. 

An informal dinner may not sound like a major achievement, but this one is an occasion worth noting.

Since becoming Secretary of State last February, Kerry has made it his singular goal to bring both halves of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict together. Nothing seemed to disturb his single-minded focus: not the cynicism and non-cooperation on all sides, nor a treacherous history of US involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts, nor even ongoing civil war in Syria and a revolution in Egypt.

So the fact that Kerry has gotten the two parties to formally reopen talks and meet, in public and on his turf, is significant.

Both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas "have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point," Kerry said, adding that he was "grateful."

But Kerry clearly has leverage on both sides. He was able to convince the Palestinians to give up their demand for a total, publicly announced halt to settlement building and abandon their threat to make new requests at the United Nations General Assembly in September. Meanwhile, he got Israel to agree to release Palestinian prisoners convicted of murder.

This is just a beginning, and no one knows what further obstacles a final agreement may present. But it's an impressive beginning — and it shows that Kerry is made of much tougher stuff than his detractors tried to make out.

Tougher stuff, too, than the Israelis or the Palestinians? As Benny Hagai, a retired Jerusalem police officer, put it to GlobalPost: "Kerry is made of metal, but Netanyahu and Abbas are made of clay — and they'll melt." 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/130729/middle-east-peace-talks-resume-washington