In a final thrust to persuade reluctant Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to enter direct talks with Israel, the EU coupled strong exhortations on Wednesday to Abbas to immediately begin them, with statements designed to give him confidence that once at the negotiating table, he will have strong support for a number of his key positions.

Abbas arrived in Cairo on Wednesday for a two-day visit to attend a special meeting of Arab League foreign ministers that begins on Thursday. The parley will evaluate the current proximity talks and discuss the possibility of starting direct negotiations.

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Despite pressure from the US and the EU, Abbas has signaled in recent days that he does not intend to enter direct talks until Israel stops all settlement construction, as well as construction in east Jerusalem, and commits itself to the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967, lines. He is expected to seek Arab League support for these positions.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at a press conference on Wednesday with visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos that Israel would not extend its settlement construction moratorium past its expiration on September 26, nor would it commit to any formulation regarding borders prior to negotiations.

“Our position from the first days of this government was that we must start immediately from day one with direct talks without preconditions, with everything open to discussions and every side putting its agenda and vision on the table. But it is impossible in advance to agree to a specific agenda on the 1967 lines, settlements or refugees,” Lieberman said.

Regarding Abbas’s demand for a continuation of the settlement construction freeze, Lieberman said,“There is no place for any link between direct talks and continuation of the moratorium in the settlements.

They are two separate issues.”

He said the government had made clear from the very beginning that the moratorium would only be for 10 months. Direct talks, he added, were important “for both sides, not only for Israel.”

Moratinos, in a statement interpreted by senior European diplomats as aimed for the ears of the Arab League ministers, called for an immediate and urgent start of direct talks without conditions.

“It is true that if you want peace, if you want to make a final settlement, you have to meet directly,” Moratinos said, adding that this is how the international community viewed the issue.

While Moratinos issued an unequivocal call for the Palestinians to enter direct talks right away, a message he is believed to have delivered to Abbas when the two met on Tuesday in Amman, France and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issued statements on Wednesday designed, European diplomats said, to allay Palestinian fears.

The French statement said that President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke over the past few days with both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Abbas and emphasized the urgency of renewing the diplomatic process.

Sarkozy called for a quick resumption of the talks, an extension of the settlement construction moratorium, and an end to steps that “disturb the balance in Jerusalem.”

In an obvious wink to Palestinian positions, the statement also said that for the talks to be effective, they should deal with all the final-status issues including territorial issues, “whose solution will be based of the 1967 borders,” and the issues of security and Jerusalem.

Ashton, meanwhile, issued a statement on behalf of the EU foreign ministers, reiterating the EU’s call for the quick resumption of “direct peace talks leading to a settlement on the basis of a two-state solution, negotiated between the parties within 24 months.”

While the PA has called for a two-year deadline for the talks, Israel has consistently objected to any time frame, even though Netanyahu said recently in Washington that he felt an agreement could be reached within a year.

Ashton also made reference to the EU’s position on the Middle East peace process from December 2009 that was, according to European officials, drawn up in part as an effort to lure the Palestinians to the negotiating table. According to that resolution, “If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states.”

Abbas is expected to brief the Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on the outcome of the US-brokered proximity talks that have been taking place between the PA and Israel for four months.

One PA official predicted that the ministers would authorize Abbas to continue with the current indirect negotiations at least until September, when the four-month period the League had allotted for them ends.

“The proximity talks have not achieved anything,” the official told The Jerusalem Post. “Without progress we can’t move to direct negotiations.”

Abbas went to Cairo with top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo, Fatah legislator Azzam al-Ahmed and Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for the PA presidency.

According to the PA official, Abbas was also planning to inform the Arab ministers of the “heavy pressure” that the US was exerting on him to agree to direct talks.

“The president needs the backing of the Arab League in the face of growing pressure from the US administration,” the official said.

“The Palestinian Authority has decided that it will seek the support of the Arab countries in every step it takes regarding the peace process. The Arab League gave the Palestinians a green light to go to four months of indirect talks. We will go to direct talks only if the Arab League says it’s okay.”

On the eve of Cairo meeting, Abbas’s Fatah faction urged the Arab ministers to support its position regarding the direct talks.

“We wish to remind the Arab League that there can be no direct talks unless progress is achieved on the issues of the security and borders of a Palestinian state,” said Ahmed Assaf, a spokesman for Fatah. “We also insist that there be a complete freeze of settlement construction as a precondition for launching direct talks.”

Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat called on Netanyahu to “pave the way” for direct negotiations by accepting the two-state solution on the basis of the pre-1967 lines and halting settlement construction, “including in Jerusalem.”


He accused Netanyahu of “closing the door” to direct talks by pursuing his policies of “settlement construction, detentions, assassinations, closures and blockades.”

Erekat told the Bethlehem-based Maan news agency from Amman that Abbas was not opposed to direct talks, but wanted “tangible results and good intentions” from the Israeli government that would create an appropriate atmosphere for the negotiations.

Erekat also denied that Jordan’s King Abdullah, who met with Abbas this week in Amman, had pressured him to agree to direct talks with Israel.

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