PA mulling US plan for low-level talks

Abbas looking at Mitchell's proposal for ministers to meet; Barak predicts negotiations within months.

January 26, 2010 05:41
2 minute read.
PA mulling US plan for low-level talks

Abbas angry 248.88 CHECK CAPTION. (photo credit: AP)

The Palestinian Authority said on Monday it was studying "new ideas" presented by US Mideast envoy George Mitchell, including the possibility of launching negotiations at a lower ministerial level, and not in direct talks between the two leaders.

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However, the PA warned that the new ideas were not sufficient to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu termed these new ideas "interesting" during Sunday's cabinet meeting, and implied that if the Palestinians accepted them, they could lead into negotiations.

While Netanyahu was tight-lipped regarding the nature of the new ideas, Reuters on Monday quoted a Palestinian official as saying they included starting the talks at a level below full-scale negotiations between the leaders.

Reuters also quoted Palestinian officials as saying Mitchell proposed confidence-building measures that would include expanding Area A in the West Bank, where the Palestinians have both civil and security control; the removal of additional roadblocks; and the release of a number of Palestinian prisoners. According to Mitchell's new proposals, these ideas would be discussed by senior ministers, not by Abbas and Netanyahu themselves.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Office would not confirm that this was what was being discussed. However, both Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have said in recent weeks that Israel would not make any more gestures to the PA to bring them to talks.

Netanyahu, at a press conference with the foreign press last week, said that each time Israel or the international community brought the Palestinians a ladder to get them off the high tree they have climbed, they just climb higher.

A senior PA official told AFP that Abbas made it clear during the talks with the US envoy that he would not resume the peace negotiations unless Israel halted all settlement construction not only in the West Bank, but in east Jerusalem as well.

The official added that the new ideas also call for Israel to stop its "incursions" into Palestinian territories and to transfer tax revenues to the PA on a regular basis.

Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said it was "premature" to talk about the resumption of the peace process. He said that the US was planning to pursue its efforts to achieve a breakthrough.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, however, sounded a bit more optimistic, predicting at the Labor party's faction meeting on Monday that talks would resume in the next month or two.

"On the surface the diplomatic process appears asleep and frozen, but I don't think that's really accurate," he said. "Under the surface, both sides want negotiations."

"In the next month or two I think negotiations will restart," he said.

Barak added that while the peace process was not proceeding at the hoped-for pace, "things are definitely happening."

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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