Abbas to hold PLO C'tee meeting before deciding on direct talks.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF, GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN, KHALED ABU TOAM
On the eve of a much-anticipated breakthrough in the deadlocked peace process, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is remaining firm in his position that no preconditions should be set for direct talks with the Palestinians, officials told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday night.It’s a stance that sets Netanyahu in opposition to the Quartet, which is expected to issue a statement within 24 to 48 hours that likely includes preconditions that it hopes would be used as a basis for such talks.RELATED:'PA may agree to talks in 2 days'Another Tack: Hands off AbbasAlthough the US is a member of the Quartet, it has been working separately to push the two sides together, and at present Israel has shown a preference for the American efforts.“The Quartet statement is a fig leaf. We would accept only an American statement that would not include preconditions,” an official told the Post, adding that Israel hoped direct talks would start over the weekend or at least by next week.The Palestinians, in contrast, want to push forward on the basis of a March 19 Quartet statement, which they assume would be reiterated now, including the Quartet’s support for dividing Jerusalem and calling on Israel to halt settlement construction.The PA has asked the US to agree to this proposal as well.AdvertisementAs of press time, David Hale, an assistant to US special envoy George Mitchell, was meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.He was expected to deliver the US response to the Palestinian proposal. Palestinian officials told the Post late Sunday night that Abbas had decided to call a meeting of the PLO Executive Committee to discuss whether to enter direct talks with Israel.The committee is likely to meet Monday or Tuesday, and Abbas is not expected to state his position on direct talks until after the meeting.Should Abbas agree to resume direct negotiations with Israel, which broke off in December 2008, it would be on the understanding that Israel would extend the 10- month moratorium on new settlement construction past its expiration date of September 26.The PA, however, is expected to back away from its demand that Israel halt all settlement construction as a precondition for talks, and settle instead for a statement by the Quartet that Israel should not be building in West Bank settlements.An Israeli official, however, said that Netanyahu had not changed his stance that the moratorium would end on September 26.As he prepared to leave for Greece on Monday for what would be the first visit there by an Israeli premier, Netanyahu met with the members of his inner cabinet, known as the septet.According to media reports, the septet endorsed Netanyahu’s stance not to accept the Quartet statement on the understanding that it would set preconditions for talks – some of which Israel has long opposed, such as a halt to all settlement construction.It preferred instead to wait for a statement about the talks from the Americans, which could also be issued this week.Israeli officials reiterated that since taking office, Netanyahu had wanted to hold direct talks with the Palestinians and hoped that the Palestinians would come to the table.
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