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Expectations low on eve of latest Mideast talks

Palestinians, Israelis at table but odds are long

JERUSALEM — Many of the same negotiators, the same issues, a familiar venue: The sense of deja vu is overwhelming as Israelis and Palestinians start Wednesday on their third attempt in 13 years to draw a border between them.

But they face even longer odds than in the last round, which ended in 2008.

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Since then, at least 40,000 more Israelis have settled in areas the Palestinians want for a state, making it even harder to partition the land. The chaos of the Arab Spring has bolstered Israeli demands for ironclad security guarantees, such as troop deployments along Palestine’s future border, widening a dispute that seemed near resolution five years ago.

The talks come after months of prodding by Secretary of State John Kerry, who made six visits to the region since taking office in his bid to bring together Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Despite US cheerleading, expectations have been low on both sides. Ahead of Wednesday’s talks at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, the atmosphere soured further after Israel said in a series of announcements in the past week that it is advancing plans for more than 3,000 new homes for Jews in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

‘‘It’s not just deliberate sabotage of the talks, but really the destruction of the outcome,’’ said senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi. ‘‘Israel has transformed the negotiations into a cover and a license to steal land.’’

In the latest announcement, made Tuesday, Israel Interior Ministry said its approval of nearly 900 new apartments in a contested part of Jerusalem has been officially published.

The new apartments, in an area known as Gilo, had been approved by a ministry panel last December, but the full ministry later endorsed the plan with some revisions, and official approval was published as required under Israeli law.

Israel has argued that it’s mainly building in areas it wants to keep in any border deal. ‘‘This construction that has been authorized in no way changes the final map of peace,’’ said government spokesman Mark Regev.

Kerry, meeting with Brazilian leaders, said Tuesday that he thinks it would be better if Israel did not make settlement announcements while peace talks are underway, but that he does not think they threaten the round of talks Wednesday.

In Israel, attention focused on anguish over the release Tuesday of 26 long-held Palestinian prisoners, part of the US-brokered deal that persuaded the Palestinians to resume negotiations.

In all, 104 veteran prisoners are to be freed in four stages, depending on progress in the border talks, for which the United States has allotted nine months.

Buses carrying the inmates departed the Ayalon prison in central Israel late Tuesday, a nighttime release that was aimed at preventing the spectacle of prisoners flashing victory signs as has happened in the past. Relatives of the victims, many with their hands painted red to symbolize what they say is the blood on the hands of the inmates, held protests throughout the day, and some protesters tried briefly to block the buses from leaving.

The decision to release the men stirred anguish in Israel, where many Israelis view them as terrorists. Most of the prisoners were convicted of killings, including Israeli civilians, soldiers and suspected Palestinian collaborators, while others were involved in attempted murder or kidnapping.

Celebrations erupted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where thousands of Palestinian well-wishers awaited the buses’ arrival. Palestinians generally view the prisoners as heroes regardless of their acts, arguing that they made personal sacrifices in the struggle for independence.

Palestinians hurled rocks at the Israeli military vehicles escorting the bus convoy as it reached the crossing to the West Bank after 1 a.m.

The negotiators meeting Wednesday have spent countless hours with each other in previous talks and are familiar with the issues down to the tiniest detail. That’s not a recipe for success, though.

Material from The New York Times was used in this report.
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