RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Other news out of the Middle East this morning is of possible peace. In Jerusalem, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are starting the first formal peace talks in five years. And while there is not a lot of optimism about the talks, there was celebration among Palestinians when 26 prisoners were released from Israeli jails. In the early hours of the morning, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, cheers from families welcoming home men who'd been gone for decades. The ultimate goal is a deal that would end the long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Reporter Sheera Frenkel joins us from Tel Aviv. Good morning.
SHEERA FRENKEL, BYLINE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Now, I gather the meeting place is a secret for these talks.
FRENKEL: Yeah. They've actually, interestingly enough, decided to keep a great deal about these talks secret. What we know is that they're going to be meeting in Jerusalem this afternoon. We know that they're scheduled to meet for quite a few hours and that those talks will involve both the U.S. special envoy Martin Indyk as well Israel's special envoy Tzipi Livni and the Palestinian peace envoy Saeb Erekat.
And we know that these talks are going to go on for quite some time. They've said that they're going to give at least nine months for there to be some sort of breakthrough. So they're in it for the long haul and today is going to be just that first preliminary meeting to try and set an agenda and to try and set a series of steps, of markers for themselves to take over the next nine months.
RENE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And Shara, it was through the, I think we could say, tireless efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry that these talks are beginning at all, and it involved a lot of pressure from a lot of places, didn't it?
FRENKEL: It did. And there's both internal pressure and external pressure. Internally, the Israeli and Palestinians have very clear objectives that they've promised their own citizens. The Palestinians are seeking an independent state and Israel is seeking to meet the security needs of its citizens. So once they've met those internal pressures, they now have to turn to the external pressures.
The EU especially, we've seen recently, placed pressure on Israel by setting a new series of guidelines which limit support for the settlements. They're sending a really clear message here that they will not allow Israel's settlements to receive any kind of support or funding from the EU. Now, the Palestinians are getting a lot of pressure from their neighboring Arab states.
Jordan has signed on to be a major partner in these peace talks and we've heard them tell the Palestinians, sit down, be serious, and we'll back you.
MONTAGNE: Okay. So a lot of the outside world invested in these peace talks and now today's the day. Is there any hope among the Israelis and the Palestinians, the public, that something will come of this?
FRENKEL: I've got to be honest. There isn't a great deal of optimism that I've seen. This morning I did a sort of walk around in Israeli neighborhoods and yesterday I was in largely Palestinian communities and it was really hard to find really anyone that has hopes for an immediate or even short term resolution. The Israeli newspapers as well, looking at the headlines this morning, you know, peace talks, why now?
And a terrible day for Israel, the release of murderers - will this bring us peace? And that's of course in reference to the release of Palestinian prisoners last night. The Palestinian press wasn't much more optimistic. They said welcoming our boys home, but what's the point of the talks? So you've really seen an atmosphere of both sides, of Israeli and the Palestinian public not being hugely optimistic that these talks are going to yield any sort of result.
MONTAGNE: Well, with all the pessimism then and low expectations, what do you think John Kerry is hoping for?
FRENKEL: You know, Kerry's optimism comes from, I think, a number of factors. One is that he's managed to keep these talks largely secret. That's been a huge sort of boost to him, to his ability to be able to maneuver behind the scenes. In the past, a lot of the officials close to Netanyahu and Abbas have said that there's been difficulty getting actual progress made on the talks because there's been so many leaks and so many things made public that make it difficult for them to actually sit down and say what sort of concessions could we make and what would be our bottom lines.
Kerry's also, I think, encouraged, at least what we hear from those closest to him, by the fact that there's such low expectations. And that might seem counterintuitive, but the fact that no one's really expecting these talks to go anywhere actually gives him a lot of wiggle room to perhaps get something done.
MONTAGNE: That's reporter Sheera Frenkel in Tel-Aviv. Thanks very much.
FRENKEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.