Sharm el-Sheikh: US-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinians resume in Egypt on Tuesday as tensions over the issue of settlements threaten the success of the latest push for peace.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will oversee the second round of talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, after direct negotiations were launched in Washington on September 2.
The parties are scheduled to continue their talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
At the heart of tensions between Israel and the Palestinians is the thorny issue of Jewish settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israeli officials have indicated they will not extend a settlement freeze due to expire on September 26, but the Palestinians have warned they will quit the talks if construction work continues on occupied land.
Under intense pressure from Washington, both sides do not want to be seen causing the collapse of the talks, but they also face domestic calls not to compromise.
US President Barack Obama was cautiously optimistic ahead of Tuesday`s meeting, the first between Israel and the Palestinians since the Jewish state`s 22-day war on the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009.
"I remain hopeful but this is going to be tough," he told reporters Friday, adding he had urged Netanyahu to extend the moratorium and Abbas to show more flexibility.
Tuesday`s talks will also have to tackle the negotiation agenda with Netanyahu reportedly wanting to first address future security arrangements and secure Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
But Palestinians want to first define the borders of a future Palestinian state, address the status of Jerusalem and discuss right of return of refugees who in 1948 fled or were driven out of what is now Israel.
"Israel has to choose between peace and settlements. If it chooses settlements, that will mean the destruction of the negotiations," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said on the eve of the talks, stressing this was Abbas`s position.
In Sharm el-Sheikh, Clinton, Abbas and Netanyahu will meet separately with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key broker between Israel and the Palestinians who has repeatedly said a continuation of settlements would be detrimental.
"Israel must be convinced that it is in the interest of negotiation process not to build new settlements... this matter will have a very harmful effect on the negotiations and could cast a shadow over Israel`s credibility," Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said on the eve of the talks.
The new US-sponsored negotiations aim to settle in one year the core issues of security for Israel, the borders of a Palestinian state, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and the future of Jerusalem.