Palestinians want US guarantees before Israel talks

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories - Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Tuesday held inconclusive talks with George Mitchell, although Washington’s Middle East envoy raised “ideas” for reviving the negotiations.

By (AFP)

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Published: Tue 14 Dec 2010, 9:05 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 6:13 AM

Mitchell returned to the region on Monday for the first time in months on a mission to salvage peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians a week after Washington admitted that direct negotiations were off the menu.

Although Israel has welcomed the idea of returning to so-called “proximity talks” the Palestinians have not yet agreed to participate, insisting they will not enter any negotiations while Israel builds settlements on occupied land.

However, following the talks in Ramallah, Palestinian officials said Washington’s point man on the Middle East conflict had raised “ideas” for addressing the deadlock.

“Mitchell brought some US ideas,” said Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina, without going into detail.

“We will wait for the Arab Committee to discuss (them) and to decide,” he said, referring to a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on Wednesday, which Abbas is set to attend.

“We will continue discussions with the Arabs to decide the coming steps,” Abu Rudeina said.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said the ideas were the same as those raised when he met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington last week.

During the meeting with Mitchell, Abbas had outlined the Palestinian position, and insisted that all settlement activity be frozen in the occupied West Bank, including east Jerusalem, Erakat said.

“Anyone who talks about comprehensive peace must stop settlement building and Israeli activities,” he said, putting the blame for the failure of direct talks squarely on Israel.

Talks began on September 2, but were suspended three weeks later with the end of a moratorium on Jewish settlement building, which Israel consistently refused to renew.

Ahead of the meeting, a senior Palestinian source said they had been awaiting the US response to a list of conditions for them resuming negotiations with Israel.

“Last week, Erakat delivered a letter to Clinton saying that they want US guarantees and answers before returning to any negotiations, direct or indirect,” he told AFP. “We are now awaiting the answer to that letter.”

But there was no mention of the letter nor of its demands in a joint Abbas-Mitchell press conference after their meeting, with the US envoy merely reiterating Washington’s commitment to find a solution to the decades-old conflict.

“As we expected, there have been very many difficulties, obstacles and setbacks along the way,” he said. “We accepted it but we are determined to persevere in our efforts until we reach the conclusion that all want: an independent, viable state of Palestine ... living side by side in peace with Israel.”

The letter had laid out two key requests on which the Palestinians are conditioning their return to any peace talks with Israel.

Firstly, it seeks US guarantees that there would be “a complete halt to settlement in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.”

It also calls on the United States to recognise a Palestinian state based on Israel’s borders of before the 1967 Six-Day War in which the Jewish state seized the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

If Washington refuses, the letter asks that it not take steps to prevent the Palestinians from seeking such recognition from the UN Security Council.

Mitchell had on Monday held three hours of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made no secret of his satisfaction that the focus had been taken off settlement activity and placed firmly on core issues.

As the Ramallah talks were under way, Israel approved the construction of 24 new settler homes homes in the middle of an Arab neighbourhood in the city’s occupied eastern sector, in a move described by settlement watchdog Peace Now as “a new provocation.”

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