PA approves proximity talks

Israel denies assurances on J’lem building; Kassam hits near Ashkelon.

May 9, 2010 00:50
4 minute read.
Abbas and Mitchell

Abbas and Mitchell 311. (photo credit: AP)


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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Saturday evening welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s long-delayed decision to enter indirect talks, but added that these needed to be without preconditions and should lead “as soon as possible” to direct negotiations.

Hours earlier, the PLO’s Executive Committee and the Fatah Central Committee gave their backing for the indirect talks.

In Gaza, meanwhile, Hamas denounced the PLO decision as a “stab in the back of our people” and said the PLO does not represent the Palestinians, underscoring that the negotiations will be with representatives of only little more than half the Palestinians.

While the focus of US diplomacy for months has been on how to restart talks with Israel and the PA, there has been little discussion on how to pry Gaza loose from Hamas.

Hamas has said in the past it would accept any peace deal negotiated by Abbas, provided it is approved in a referendum. However, it is not clear whether that promise still stands.

Meanwhile, a Kassam rocket was fired at Ashkelon from Gaza on Saturday night.

It was the first rocket launched from the Strip in more than a month. The Kassam exploded south of the city, causing no casualties or damage. Warning sirens were sounded.
 Police and IDF troops were scouring the area for the rocket.

In the past, Israel has responded with air strikes to rocket attacks from Gaza. Netanyahu has vowed to respond to every such attack.

Kassam fired into western Negev

'US commitment to Israel unshakable'
'PA boycott harms proximity talks'

US envoy George Mitchell, who met with Netanyahu on Wednesday and Thursday, met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday, and was scheduled to do so again on Sunday, before leaving in the afternoon.

After meeting with Mitchell, Top Palestinian negotiater Saeb Erekat said that Abbas handed Mitchell a letter containing the Palestinian leadership's view on the proximity talks, Israel Radio reported.

Erekat says Israel and the Palestinians will discuss borders and security. The discussions will include Jerusalem and the settlements, because they are connected to the issue of returning to 1967 borders, Erekat explained.

According to Israel Radio, Erekat also said that the Americans will decide when the proximity talks begin, not the Palestinians.

Mitchell is expected to leave a team behind to continue discussions with each side and map out their respective positions. He is also expected to personally brief US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on his week of talks here, and to return to the region in two weeks.

The framework of the “proximity” talks was not immediately clear, nor whether Mitchell would be shuttling between Netanyahu and Abbas, or whether he – or one of his representatives – would be bouncing between Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho and PA negotiator Saeb Erekat.

An official in the Prime Minister’s Office denied Palestinian claims that Israel had given the US assurances regarding a halt in new construction beyond the Green Line, including in Jerusalem.

“The Israeli government refuses to accept the Palestinian demands that a building freeze in Jerusalem is a precondition to these talks,” the official said.

Nevertheless, PLO general-secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo told reporters the Palestinians decided to engage Israel, even if indirectly, because of a number of US assurances, including one on settlement construction.

“The decision is based on guarantees and assurances we have received regarding the settlement activities and the necessity to halt them... and that the US will take a decisive position toward any provocations that influence the path of negotiations,” he said.

Abed Rabbo said the US also assured the Palestinians that all so-called core issues would be raised in indirect talks, such as the borders of a future Palestinian state and Jerusalem.

'Israel will be willing to take tangible steps'

Israel, however, wants to see the indirect talks as little more than a “corridor” into direct negotiations, fearing that the Palestinians want the US involved in discussions on the core issues in the hope that they will then step in and side with the Palestinian positions.

One Israeli official did not rule out the possibility that once the indirect talks pick up steam, Israel would institute more confidence-building measures. Among the measures that have been discussed are a release of Palestinian security prisoners, turning over additional territory to full PA control, and an IDF pullback from parts of the West Bank.

“In the framework of the talks, once they start, I think Israel will be willing to take tangible steps to complement those talks. The assumption is that both sides will take steps in parallel,” the official said.

Among the steps Israel expected the Palestinians to take, the official said, were to clamp down on incitement, step up security measures, and cease their diplomatic offensive against Israel in a variety of international forums, including a reported last-minute effort to block Israel’s acceptance into the OECD.

The diplomatic offensive against Israel does not create a “conducive atmosphere” for negotiations, the official said.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also welcomed the Fatah and PLO endorsement of the indirect talks, saying that if both sides act in a responsible manner and are willing to make brave decisions, “it will be possible to get to direct negotiations and a breakthrough toward an agreement.”

Mitchell also met with President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and opposition head Tzipi Livni.

AP contributed to this report.

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