'US: Clinton to meet Erekat in push for peace'

Washington says it's trying to improve atmosphere between Israel, Palestinians to get parties back to negotiating table, AFP reports.

Hillary Clinton and Saeb Erekat meet in Ramallah [file] 370R (photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Hillary Clinton and Saeb Erekat meet in Ramallah [file] 370R
(photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat will travel to Washington for a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week, in an effort to revive the peace process, the State Department said on Friday.
The meeting aims to encourage Israel and the Palestinians “to build on the exchange of letters and continue to take the next step toward the table,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, according to AFP.
In April and May, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu exchanged letters laying out positions for resuming talks that have been stalled since late 2010 when an Israeli settlement freeze expired.
Abbas continues to demand a freeze on settlement activity before resuming negotiations.
“We’re trying to improve the atmosphere so that we can make progress and get them back to the table,” Nuland added, according to AFP.
An Israeli government official said Israel was happy to meet with the Palestinians at any level without conditions.
The official also said that Kadima head Shaul Mofaz has been fully briefed by both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his envoy to the Palestinians Yitzhak Molcho on the Palestinian issue.
While Palestinian sources were quoted last week as saying a meeting between Mofaz and Abbas was in the works, the official said he did not know if such a meeting was indeed in the immediate offing.
On Thursday, Erekat called on the Mideast Quartet to take a more active role with concrete steps, speaking ahead of a Quartet meeting on Friday.
“The Quartet has not taken any concrete measure to stop this alarming trend [of settlement activity], which the international community unanimously agrees now seriously threatens the prospects of the two-state solution,” the Palestinian negotiator said, according to the Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency.
Calling for common terms of reference to be established, Erekat continued, “Any Quartet calls for a resumption of negotiation in the absence of such basic requirements will be counterproductive and only lead to a meaningless process that is incapable of bringing about peace,” Ma’an reported.
Also on Thursday, PLO Secretary- General Yasser Abed Rabbo said efforts were under way to arrange a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu.
“Contacts are continuing to ease tensions between the two sides and prepare for the resumption of the peace process,” Abed Rabbo told the PA’s Voice of Palestine radio station.
Meanwhile, US Middle East envoy David Hale is expected to return to the region in the coming days for talks aimed at reviving the peace process.
The US has told the Palestinian leadership that it has “new, positive ideas” on how to revive the peace process, Ameen Makbul, a Fatah official in the West Bank, said on Thursday.
The London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper quoted a senior Palestinian official as saying that renewed US efforts to revive the peace talks are designed to stop the PA from pursuing its plan to seek unilateral UN recognition of a Palestinian state.
The official said that fresh US ideas include more goodwill gestures on the part of Israel, such as the release of Palestinian prisoners and freezing settlement construction.
Last week, Clinton phoned Abbas and discussed with him ways of resuming the peace talks with Israel, the official pointed out.
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.