Netanyahu and Abbas
Netanyahu and Abbas Israel News photo: Flash 90

Middle East peace talks will restart in Washington on Monday, the State Department announced on Sunday, according to AFP.

It said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to both Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders and "personally extended an invitation to send senior negotiating teams to Washington to formally resume direct final status negotiations.

Initial meetings are planned for the evening of Monday July 29 and Tuesday July 30, 2013," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The Israelis will be represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho, and the PA will be represented by Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh, she said.

"As Secretary Kerry announced on July 19 in Amman, Jordan, the Israelis and Palestinians had reached agreement on the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations," Psaki’s statement said.

"The meetings in Washington will mark the beginning of these talks," she added.

"They will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural workplan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months."

Earlier Sunday, the Israeli government voted in favor of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyhau's plan to release 104 terrorist prisoners from jail, as a gesture that will accompany the reopening of peace talks.

The identities of the prisoners will be determined by a committee of ministers that will be headed by Netanyahu, and will include Livni, Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovich and Minister of Science Yaakov Perry, a former Shin Bet head.

The decision was passed with a majority of 13 ministers in favor, seven opponents and two who abstained.

Prior to the vote, Bayit Yehudi party head Naftali Bennett warned that the government is on a slippery slope vis-a-vis terrorist releases.

In the past, he noted, Israel released a single terrorist in exchange for a living soldier. Then it released hundreds of terrorists for a living soldier, then terrorists for a dead soldier. Now, Bennett lamented, the government is releasing terrorists merely for "a process.”