(Reuters) - Palestinians and Israelis ended three years of stalemate and resumed talks in Washington on Monday to try to reach a peace deal that would pave the way for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have the last word, but have dispatched senior envoys to the negotiations convened by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Below are brief biographies of the main participants:
TZIPI LIVNI - Israel's justice minister. A former foreign minister, she came close in 2009 to becoming Israel's second woman prime minister after Golda Meir in the 1970s.
But Livni failed to clinch a coalition deal with ultra-Orthodox parties after leading the centrist Kadima party to a narrow general election victory in 2009 which left the door open for Netanyahu to form a right-wing coalition.
Livni, 55, headed Israel's negotiating team opposite the Palestinians while serving as foreign minister in former premier Ehud Olmert's cabinet. But those talks came to nothing after Olmert stepped down amid corruption probes in 2008. He has subsequently been cleared in court of most of the charges.
Livni came to politics in the 1990s, following a stint in the Mossad intelligence service while she was a student in Paris and then a career as a corporate attorney.
She plays the drums as a hobby, has two adult sons, and has been a portrait of intensity in public, outlining policies in somber run-on sentences that defy division into sound bites.
Livni currently heads a small centrist party, Hatnua, which was first to sign up to Netanyahu's coalition following his election victory earlier this year. One of her main demands in return for supporting Netanyahu was that she should lead Israel's peace negotiating team in any future talks.
Livni hails from a well-known ultranationalist family. Her father, Eitan, led an armed underground group in the 1940s that fought for Jewish control of all Palestine rather than partitioning the then British-ruled territory with Arabs.
YITZHAK MOLCHO - A Jerusalem attorney whose office specializes in corporate law. He is a close confidant of Netanyahu and has also advised him on internal political matters. He was a key negotiator in Netanyahu's coalition-building talks before the new government took office in March.
Molcho has been an Israeli peace emissary since the mid-1990s. He represented Netanyahu during his first tenure as prime minister between 1996-99 and was recalled by the Israeli leader to the task in 2010.
The 68-year-old is not a civil servant, but a personal appointee of Netanyahu's. He has held many meetings with Palestinian leaders and negotiators as well as U.S. mediators.
SAEB EREKAT - Has been a negotiator since joining the first Palestinian delegation to Middle East peace talks in Madrid in 1991, and has participated in countless sessions with Israel and the United States over the years.
Erekat was born in the West Bank town of Abu Dis, near Jerusalem, in 1955 and lives in the West Bank town of Jericho. He has a doctorate in peace studies from England's Bradford University and taught at al-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus.
An articulate, rapid-fire spokesman for the Palestinian cause and a familiar face in international television coverage of the conflict, Erekat is also a veteran of Abbas's Fatah faction and was appointed minister of local government in 1996.
In 2011 he quit as chief negotiator and head of the Negotiation Support Unit (NSU) after office employees leaked hundreds of documents to al Jazeera television station which embarrassed Abbas's administration.
The NSU was set up in 1999 to give legal, communications and policy advice to Palestinian negotiators and was partially funded by a number of European countries. An investigation found three employees had been responsible for the leak.
The leaked papers showed Erekat and his fellow negotiators had made more concessions to the Israelis in private than had previously been made public, but Erekat said the documents were taken out of context and were meaningless, given that the then-talks never led to a deal.
JOHN KERRY - Even before he became secretary of state, John Kerry made clear that one of his ambitions was to try to end what he has called the "granddaddy" of conflicts: the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 24, Kerry said it was "my hope ... my prayer is that perhaps this can be a moment where we can renew some kind of effort to get the parties into a discussion".
A week later, on his first weekend as the top U.S. diplomat, Kerry telephoned Netanyahu and Abbas to stress his "personal commitment" to Middle East peace. Many analysts thought he had embarked on a quest that was both naive and quixotic.
Nearly six months later, he has surprised them by getting Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to sit side-by-side at a dinner on Monday night that marked the resumption of talks after nearly three years.
The son of a U.S. diplomat, Kerry seems to revel in the personal touch the job requires, travelling widely, including to the Middle East six times in the last four months to get the talks moving.
He took over the State Department from Hillary Clinton, another failed U.S. presidential candidate. Unlike Kerry, Clinton appeared to keep some distance from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Before turning to diplomacy, Kerry served nearly 28 years as a U.S. senator and was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He made his first appearance before the panel in 1971 representing Vietnam veterans who had turned against the war.
He was the Democratic candidate for U.S. president in 2004 but lost to the Republican incumbent, George W. Bush.
MARTIN INDYK - In searching for an envoy to lead Israelis and Palestinians to peace, Kerry turned to British-born Martin Indyk, a veteran U.S. policymaker who has held key jobs at the National Security Council and State Department.
A two-time U.S. ambassador to Israel, Indyk brings to his new assignment experience abroad and in Washington, where he has been assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs - the top U.S. diplomat for the region - and senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs at the National Security Council.
Born in Britain in 1951, Indyk, 62, moved to Australia as a child and earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Sydney University and a Ph.D. from the Australian National University. He came to the United States in late 1982 to serve as a visiting professor and fellow at Columbia University and became a U.S. citizen in 1993.
He was deeply involved in Clinton's failed effort in 2000 to coax the Israelis and the Palestinians to a peace deal in the final year of his presidency and wrote a book about the experience titled "Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East".
The United States has been his professional home for more than 30 years, notably at two think tanks: the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he served as its founding executive director, and the Brookings Institution, where he is now on leave from his post as head of its foreign policy program.
(Writing by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; editing by Elizabeth Piper)