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Erekat urges settlement freeze to spur talks
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
01/02/2012
On eve of meeting with Israeli envoy, Palestinian negotiator calls on Israel to take advantage of "positive opportunity."
 
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat Monday reiterated the Palestinian Authority demands for a full cessation of settlement construction and acceptance of the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution, saying this would pave the way for the resumption of real and serious negotiations between the two sides.

Erekat's comments came on the eve of a planned meeting in Amman with Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho under the auspices of the Quartet members - the US, EU, UN and Russia.

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Hailing King Abdullah of Jordan for hosting Tuesday's talks, Erekat told reporters in Ramallah that the meeting was designed to "commit" Israel to "international legitimacy, including the road map for peace, which calls for a freeze of construction in the settlements.

Erekat urged the Israeli government to take advantage  of the "positive opportunity" provided by the Jordanian monarch by halting activities in the settlements, accepting the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 "borders" and releasing Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

The issue of the prisoners will be at the top of the Palestinians' agenda during the meeting in Jordan, Erekat said. He added that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had promised PA President Mahmoud Abbas that Israel would free Fatah-affiliated prisoners once a deal is struck with Hamas in return for IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.

The Palestinians, Erekat said, were never opposed to negotiations with Israel. "We hope the Israeli government will realize the significance of the Jordanian invitation to hold talks in Amman," he said.

Erekat said the PA has complied with the demand of the Quartet by presenting "comprehensive positions" on the issues of borders and security.

Erekat claimed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was seeking to limit the responsibilities of the PA to security and economy. "This is a role that we have rejected," he said. "The Palestinian Authority will work toward moving the Palestinians from occupation to independence."

Erekat also denied that the Palestinian leadership was considering dismantling the PA if the peace process collapsed.

In a related development, several Palestinian groups Monday criticized the PA for agreeing to hold direct talks with Israel.

Hamas called on the PA to boycott the Amman meeting, arguing that the talks would only benefit Israel and help it improve its image in the international arena.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine condemned the Amman talks as a "grave mistake that would encourage occupation to pursue its practices" against Palestinians.

The Islamic Jihad organization said that the meeting was a waste of time and would allow Israel to continue creating new facts on the ground.
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