JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli and Palestinian delegates sitting down for preliminary peace talks in Washington are veterans of on-and-off negotiations that began more than two decades ago. The chief Palestinian negotiator has joked that he has spent more time with an Israeli negotiator than with his own wife. Such familiarity could be seen as a blessing or a curse, assuring a smooth return to talks or blocking creativity.
A look at the four chief negotiators:
Saeb Erekat, 57, has led or been part of all Palestinian delegations since peace talks with Israel were launched at an international conference in Madrid in 1991. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has praised Erekat’s institutional memory, saying his top aide can recall any accord or document linked to the talks. Erekat, who lives in the West Bank desert town of Jericho, is a senior member in Abbas’ Fatah movement.
Before entering politics, he taught political science at the West Bank’s An-Najah University. He earned a Master’s degree in political science from San Francisco State University and a doctorate in conflict resolution at the University of Bradford in Britain. Over the past two decades, Erekat has been quoted frequently by international, Israeli and Palestinian news media.
Mohammed Shtayyeh, an economist, served as a Cabinet minister in Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, the self-rule government in parts of the West Bank. In the mid-1990s, he was part of the Palestinian delegation that negotiated the Paris Protocol defining economic relations between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Shtayyeh, 54, holds a doctorate in economic development from the University of Sussex in Britain.
Israel’s chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, played a key role in the last sustained round of negotiations between Abbas and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2007-2008. Leaked documents from those negotiations show her as a tough negotiator.
Livni, 56, a lawyer, was raised a hard-line nationalist. In recent years, she has become a prominent advocate of a two-state solution, arguing that the viability of the Jewish state is at stake. She serves as justice minister and leads the small, centrist Hatnua Party. In Israel’s parliament elections this year, Livni was the only senior politician to argue that Israel must make solving its conflict with the Palestinians its top priority.
Attorney Yitzhak Molcho has been a trusted envoy of successive Israeli prime ministers to negotiations with the Palestinians since 1996. Molcho, a longtime friend of Netanyahu, has stayed out of the limelight. He serves as chairman of the board of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.