Obama to PA: Start direct talks

US president phones Abbas after meeting with Netanyahu.

Obama, Abbas shake hands 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Obama, Abbas shake hands 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Just days after meeting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Washington, US President Barack Obama on Friday phoned PA President Mahmoud Abbas and urged him to change his mind about holding direct talks with Israel, according to a Palestinian official in Ramallah.
The Palestinian Authority has refused to begin direct talks with Israel unless progress is first achieved on two major core issues during the current proximity talks: security and borders. According to the official, however, the US administration is now pressing the PA to move on to direct negotiations.
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“We’re under pressure to agree to direct negotiations with Israel,” the official said.
“Such a move requires the approval of the Arab League.”
The PA leadership has asked Arab League foreign ministers to convene soon to discuss the US demand, the official added.
“If the Arab League says it’s okay, we will go along.”
Getting the Arab League to agree is expected to be among the topics discussed on Tuesday, when Netanyahu travels to Egypt for a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak.
In addition, Israeli officials said Netanyahu will brief Mubarak about his talks with Obama in Washington, about the re-starting of direct negotiations with the Palestinians, and about the changes in Israel’s policy regarding the blockade of Gaza.
The official said the sense in Jerusalem was that direct talks were “very close,” but he refused to give a timetable.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said that Obama had promised during the phone conversation that he would make every effort to establish a Palestinian state that would exist in peace and security alongside Israel.
Abu Rudaineh said Obama also briefed the PA president on the outcome of his talks with Netanyahu in Washington last week, and informed Abbas that US special Middle East envoy George Mitchell would return to the region next week.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official closely associated with Abbas, said that the Palestinians would not enter the direct talks “unless we know where they would lead.” He said that the Palestinians want to know which issues would be discussed during the proposed direct talks. The PA also wants a clear timetable for the negotiations, he stressed.
“We’re not going to go to negotiations that will last for 10 years,” Abed Rabbo said.
“We’re still waiting for clear answers from the Americans and Israelis regarding the agenda and timetable of the direct talks.”
Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said that it would be possible to move to direct talks once Israel accepted the two-state solution on the basis of the June 4, 1967, lines. He did not rule out a land swap between the two parties.
Both Erekat and Abed Rabbo said that the Palestinians would not agree to direct talks unless Israel halted all settlement construction.
According to a statement on the Obama- Abbas conversation put out by the White House, the two men discussed ways “to advance to direct talks in the near time.” The statement also said that the US president backed Abbas’s leadership and “his commitment to peace.”
They spoke about the “positive momentum” of improvements on the ground in Gaza and in the West Bank, with Obama praising the “restraint shown by both sides in recent months and progress in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.”
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report from Washington.