WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton formally opened the first direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in nearly two years on Thursday, imploring the parties to make needed compromises to forge an agreement.

At a ceremony in the State Department’s ornate Benjamin Franklin room, Clinton said the Obama administration was committed to bringing about a settlement in a year’s time. But she stressed that after decades of failed attempts, the heavy lifting must be done by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“You each have taken an important step toward freeing your peoples from the shackles of a history we cannot change,” Clinton said.

Thursday’s negotiations are the first since the last effort broke down in December 2008, and are fraught with complications, including recent violence in the West Bank and Israeli settlement activity. Expectations are low and U.S. officials have said that success may be only an agreement to hold a second round of negotiations.

Sitting at the top of a U-shaped table between Netanyahu and Abbas, Clinton congratulated the two for agreeing to resume negotiations but warned of difficult days to come in the effort to create an independent Palestinian state.

“We cannot and we will not impose a solution,” she said.

“I know the decision to sit at this table was not easy,” Clinton added. “We understand the suspicion and skepticism that so many feel, borne out of years of conflict and frustrated hopes.”

Officials say they are hoping to arrange a critical meeting for Sept. 15 in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik and top aides to the leaders are expected to meet later Thursday to iron out final details of the next step.