Middle East peace talks: Where they stand

Damascus Gate, Jerusalem

As Israel and the Palestinians prepare for US-brokered peace talks - their first direct negotiations in nearly three years - the BBC news website outlines where the three parties stand on the core issues of the conflict.

Middle East talks: Core issues



The Israeli government is unwilling to divide Jerusalem, held to be the political and religious centre of the Jewish people. It stands by the 1980 Israeli Basic Law that "Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel". In the past there has been room for manoeuvre on the margins. In talks in 2000 and 2007, the then Israeli governments proposed exchanging some outlying annexed districts.


The Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which was occupied by Jordan before being captured by the Israelis in 1967, as the capital of a Palestinian state. The Old City contains the third holiest place in Islam, the al-Aqsa mosque, and the Dome of the Rock, from where Mohammed is said to have visited heaven on his winged steed Burak.

United States

The US does not recognise the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem and maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv. President Barack Obama has opposed the building of housing for Israelis in East Jerusalem though he said before becoming president that dividing the city would be "very difficult to execute".



Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepts that there should be a Palestinian state and that there will have to be an Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank (captured by Israel in 1967) to accommodate this. Israel has already withdrawn its troops and settlers from Gaza. Israel would like the borders to include the major Israeli settlements that have grown up on the West Bank and Jerusalem. However some right-wing members of the cabinet and Mr Netanyahu's Likud party do not accept the idea of a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.


They want the talks to start from the basic position that land captured by Israel in 1967 - the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza - belongs to a future Palestine. Any land given to the Israelis would have to be compensated for by a balanced land swap. They hope UN recognition and new EU policy-making based on the 1967 ceasefire lines has strengthened their hand in talks with Israel.

United States

The US agrees that the starting point but not the end point should be the 1967 lines and that a land swap will have to be the basis of any agreement. It will encourage this.



The Israeli government has previously insisted on keeping the major Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Any departure from this would break up the coalition which forms the government. Israel refused to reintroduce a partial freeze on settlements as a precondition for returning to talks. The last one expired on 26 September 2010.


Ideally, the Palestinians would like all settlements to be abandoned as they were in Gaza. However, they appear to accept that some will have to stay but they will argue for a minimum number and a land swap for any that are left. They left the last round of talks after a partial Israeli moratorium expired on 26 September 2010 and was not renewed.

United States

As with the annexation of East Jerusalem, the US has not recognised the international legitimacy of the Israeli West Bank settlements. But it accepts their reality and will press for compromise.



Israel rejects the idea that Palestinian refugees from previous wars should be allowed any "right of return" to their former homes. They say that this is a device to destroy the state of Israel by demography in order to establish a unitary state of Palestine. For that reason Mr Netanyahu has called for Israel to be recognised as a Jewish state.


Formally, they maintain the "right of return", arguing that without it a great injustice would not be put right. However, there has been regular talk among Palestinians that this "right" could be met by compensation. They refuse to recognise the concept of Israel as a "Jewish state", saying that this is unnecessary and that it ignores the Israeli-Arab citizens of Israel.

United States

The US understands the Israeli refusal to take back refugees and hopes that this can be resolved by compensation and development aid for those who cannot go back to their previous family homes.



The Israeli government is afraid that a Palestinian state might one day fall into the hands of Hamas or be used to attack Israel. Therefore it is insisting that it keeps a large measure of security control, including in the Jordan Valley, and that a state of Palestine be largely demilitarised.


They argue that security will come from a stable two-state solution not the other way round. They want as many attributes of a normal state as possible. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas fears that client-status would be untenable and open to a Hamas takeover.

United States

The US accepts the Israeli need for security but also the need for Palestinian statehood and reconciling these is the aim of its diplomacy. It is unlikely, however, to recognise a state of Palestine which has not emerged from negotiation. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry appointed Retired US Gen John Allen as special advisor on Israeli security needs.

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