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Palestinian Authority rejects call for unconditional direct talks

Thursday, July 08, 2010 10:48:44 AM, Staff Reporter

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Malegaon: The Palestinian Authority (PA) on Wednesday rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for direct peace talks, reports the Saudi English daily Arab News.

Following his meeting with US President Barack Obama on Tuesday, Netanyahu called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to meet him and move from the current US-mediated “proximity talks” to face-to-face negotiations on Palestinian statehood.

“We reject the call,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. Erekat told the Voice of Palestine radio that “the era in which we held negotiations while Israel continued its unilateral procedures away from the references of peace no longer exists and has gone forever.”

“The key to direct talks is in the hand of Prime Minister Netanyahu,” said Erekat. “The minute he announces a (total) settlement freeze, the minute he announces the resumption of final status (talks) where we left them in December 2008, we will have direct talks.”

Erekat urged Netanyahu to stop settlement constructions in Palestinian territories, including the natural growth of the blocks, and to agree that the direct negotiations resume from where they stopped in 2008. Erekat asked the US administration “to let Israel choose between peace and settlements because the two things cannot be taken together.”

Meanwhile, Abbas said Wednesday in Addis Ababa that he wanted an Israeli “signal” on the key issues of security and borders before heeding US calls for a resumption of direct talks. “We are ready to go for direct talks if we receive any signals from the Israeli side on two issues, the borders and the security,” Abbas said in English during an official visit to Ethiopia.


“We have presented our proposals to both the Americans and the Israelis and we are waiting for an Israeli impression and reaction,” he told reporters.

US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell has been shuttling between Israel and the PA since May. Erekat said the PA leadership “saves no efforts to make Mitchell’s mission successful,” adding that the PA awaits Israeli answers on core issues like borders and security.

On Tuesday, a new poll found that 47.6 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are in favor of direct negotiations with Israel, while 46.6 percent are against them. The poll, conducted by the Ramallah-based Arab World for Research & Development center found some 51 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinians and 41 percent of those residing in Gaza support direct talks.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu said the best way to make peace with Palestinians is to “put aside all the grievances and all the preconditions” to direct talks. But he refused to say whether he’ll extend the moratorium on a limited freeze in West Bank settlements, due to expire in September. Palestinians have demanded this before renewing face-to-face talks.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said face-to-face talks could start in September. “My feeling is that we can move very fast with direct talks, about September this year, we can move from proximity talks to the direct talks,” Lieberman told reporters in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

The Palestinians say they are wary of walking into a trap of direct talks. They insist on keeping Israel at arm’s length until it makes certain things clear — namely, what size and shape of Palestinian state is Netanyahu prepared to consider, and will its Jordan Valley be free of Israeli troops?

The Palestinians note they have had a “peace process” for the best part of 17 years, yet remain under Israeli occupation. They say they have cooperated with three US presidents with differing levels of commitment to the process, but with the same result. So they are wary of being pushed into a negotiation where they can be made to look like rejectionists.





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