Diplomat after diplomat has tried to help solve the longstanding territorial conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the last direct negotiations collapsed after barely a day back in 2010 — but John Kerry has been slowly but surely trying to inch both parties back toward the negotiating table. After some swirling rumors to the contrary, both groups finally agreed last week to send representatives to Washington without any preconditions for another round of peace talks that the State Department is hoping will last for about nine months. And, they’re off:

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held their first peace talks in nearly three years on Monday in a U.S.-brokered effort that Secretary of State John Kerry hopes will end their conflict despite deep divisions.

Top aides to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas began the talks over an iftar dinner – the evening meal with which Muslims break their daily fast during Ramadan – hosted by Kerry at the State Department. …

“It’s very, very special to be here,” Kerry told his guests. “There isn’t very much to talk about at all,” he joked. …

The United States is seeking to broker an agreement on a “two-state solution” in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands occupied by the Israelis since a 1967 war.

The major issues to be resolved in the talks include borders, the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

So far, though, the United States seems to have the biggest stake in the talks’ progress; the State Department has asked both sides not to speak publicly about the negotiations nor their expectations, but Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas already took a hard line in a meeting with Egyptian officials on Monday:

Even as talks for a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace got off to a cautious start in Washington Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Egypt that no Israelis would be allowed to remain in a future Palestinian state.

“In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands,” Abbas said following a meeting with interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour in Cairo. …

The Palestinian leader also reiterated that he wants a total freeze on settlement construction, and that he will not agree to any compromise solution that would halt projects in smaller outlying Jewish communities in the West Bank while allowing continued building in the larger settlement blocs.

Oof — that doesn’t bode particularly well, does it? Israel, for their part, has said in the past that they’d like to maintain a military presence in the West Bank at the border with Jordan in order to prevent any influx of weapons that might be used against them. I suppose we’ll shortly be seeing if and how the talks move forward.