WASHINGTON, Sept. 2 (Xinhua) -- The direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that started in Washington Thursday are likely to move on a bumpy road, analysts say.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched the talks, hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to find an exit out of a 20-month standoff.
They expect to solve the six-decade Middle East conflict with one-year-long talks. But many analysts said that would be a really daunting challenge, despite the leaders' ceremonial handshakes and smiles before the cameras.
STRONG VOWS FOR PEACE
At the opening session of the direct talks, Clinton said she understands it isn't easy for both leaders to sit down face-to-face at the negotiation table.
"You each have taken an important step toward freeing your peoples from the shackles of a history we cannot change and moving toward a future of peace and dignity that only you can create," Clinton said.
She promised the United States will be an "active and sustained" partner to help the two sides reach a peace agreement.
Both Netanyahu and Abbas said they are strongly committed to the peace effort in their remarks at the direct talks.
"I see you as a partner for peace. Together we can lead our people to a historic future that can put an end to claims and to conflicts," Netanyahu told Abbas, in a bid to reach out to him.
Abbas said: "We do know how hard are the hurdles and obstacles we face during these negotiations -- negotiations that within a year should result in an agreement that will bring peace."
U.S. Middle East special envoy George Mitchell said Thursday afternoon that the two leaders and Clinton have had "a long and productive" meeting.
NO REAL BREAKTHROUGH
However, U.S. media said most achievements of Thursday's talks are only symbolic.
Indeed, the only tangible progress is everyone agrees to hold the next round of talks on Sept. 14 and 15 somewhere in the Middle East and the two leaders will hold meetings every two weeks.
While pledging for peace, Netanyahu and Abbas demanded concessions from the other side once the talks started.
"We expect you to be prepared to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people," Netanyahu told Abbas, stressing any peace deal must take into account "security needs" of Israel.
Abbas, for his part, insisted Israel stop all settlement activities in the West Bank and lift blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Since Israel and Palestine signed the Oslo Agreement in 1993, there have been on-and-off peace talks for 17 years.
The most controversial issues include the status of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Palestinian refugees.
The Israeli settlement freeze due to expire on Sept. 26 has posed the most immediate test to the direct talks.
Netanyahu said Tuesday he wouldn't extend the moratorium, while Abbas said if settlement construction resumes, the peace talks will come to an end.
Currently, no one has appeared to be ready to give in so far.
Moreover, as negotiations go further, hawks from both sides may try to sabotage the peace process. Incitement such as the killing of four Israelis in the West Bank on Tuesday is likely to repeat. Many believed the one-year deadline to complete direct talks isn't a very realistic goal.
"HIGH STAKE" BREWING HUGE RISKS
Since he took office, U.S. President Barack Obama has made the Middle East peace process one of his top diplomatic priorities and spared no effort to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiation table.
Despite their small sizes, Israel and Palestinian areas have important implication on U.S. overall strategy in the region.
Both Obama and Clinton have said solving the conflict between the two sides concerns U.S. national interests, as it is widely believed to have important implications on Middle East oil supply, the U.S. image in the Muslim world, and U.S.-Iran relations and other crucial strategic issues.
However, given Obama's ambitious goal to finish the talks within one year, both the stakes and risks are huge.
First, current Israeli and Palestinian leaders are considered by many to be not politically strong enough to make necessary concessions to strike a peace deal.
How to convince the two sides, coaxed and pressured by the United States to the direct talks, to compromise during talks is a big challenge.
Second, if the talks failed, it would deal a major blow to Obama's efforts to improve the U.S. standing in the Muslim world and isolate Iran, which the United States accuses of developing nuclear weapons.
Furthermore, in that scenario, domestic opponents of Obama and his Democratic Party would find new ammo to attack the administration's foreign policy.