WASHINGTON -- With a cast of characters that has presided over numerous failed Middle East peace efforts, the Obama administration launched a fresh bid Monday to pull Israel and the Palestinians into substantive negotiations.
Despite words of encouragement, deep skepticism about the prospects for success surrounded the initial discussions, which were opening with a dinner hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. He named a former U.S. ambassador to Israel to shepherd what all sides believe will be a protracted and difficult process.
Former envoy Martin Indyk, who played key roles in the Clinton administration's multiple, unsuccessful pushes to broker peace deals between Israel and Syria and Israel and the Palestinians, will assume the day-to-day responsibility for keeping the talks alive for the next nine months.
Kerry called Indyk a "seasoned diplomat" and said he "knows what has worked and he knows what hasn't worked." Neither Kerry nor the State Department would say what has worked in the past.
President Barack Obama said Indyk "brings unique experience and insight to this role, which will allow him to contribute immediately as the parties begin down the tough, but necessary, path of negotiations."
The Israeli side will be led by chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister who was active in the Bush's administration's ill-fated Annapolis peace talks with the Palestinians, and Yitzhak Molcho, a veteran adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was part of the Israeli team involved in Obama's two previous attempts to broker negotiations. Those two efforts relied heavily on Dennis Ross, a former Indyk colleague and Mideast peace envoy, and veteran negotiator George Mitchell.
The Palestinian team will be led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and President Mahmoud Abbas' adviser, Mohammed Shtayyeh, both of whom have been major players in failed negotiations with the Israelis since 1991.
Previous attempts to get talks started have foundered on Israel's continued construction of Jewish settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians and Palestinian attempts to win international recognition as a sovereign state in the absence of a peace deal. Actual negotiations have died because the two sides have been unable to compromise on the most serious disagreements between them: borders, the status of Jerusalem, refugees and security.