'PA may agree to talks in 2 days'

Reports say Abbas waiting for Quartet statement before announcement.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: AP)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is likely to announce his agreement to enter direct talks with Israel within 48 hours, PA officials said over the weekend.
The Abbas announcement on the resumption of direct negotiations with Israel, which broke off in December 2008, comes in response to the United States’ demand that the two sides sit down face to face, officials said.
RELATED:Opinion: Another Tack - Hands off AbbasClinton presses for direct talks
“The heavy pressure that the Americans put on us is unprecedented,” said one official in Ramallah.
“The president has no choice but to succumb,” the official added.
The official said that the pressure was coming not only from the Americans, but also from the Europeans and some Arab countries.
As a result, there is speculation among some PA officials that Abbas could drop his demand that Israel halt all settlement construction as a precondition to direct talks.
Instead, according to some PA officials, Abbas could come to the table on the basis of a Quartet demand that Israel must freeze settlement construction, even if Israel has yet to comply. The PA would insist, however, on the extension of the 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction, which expires on September 26.
This speculation by PA officials comes as the Quartet is on the verge of issuing a statement, which it hopes will be used as the basis for these direct talks.
Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton, said Friday that direct negotiations should lead to a two-state solution.
This should be implemented within the 24-month timeframe set by the Quartet.
The State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine would live side by side in peace and security.
Separately, the PA has proposed to the US that talks with Israel move forward on the basis of a March 19 statement by the Quartet.
David Hale, a deputy to US special envoy George Mitchell, is scheduled to relay to the PA leadership in Ramallah the US Administration’s response to the latest proposal presented by the Palestinians, the officials told The Jerusalem Post.
The proposal, which Abbas presented to Mitchell last week, calls for launching the direct negotiations on the basis of the Quartet’s March, 2010 statement that envisages a complete cessation of settlement construction and the establishment of a “viable and democratic” Palestinian state.
“We are waiting for a US and European response to this proposal,” said Azzam al-Ahmed, a member of the Fatah Central Committee and a close confidant of Abbas.
“The Americans told us that they want to consult with the Europeans about the proposal,” Ahmed said, adding that the PA leadership would announce its final position on the direct talks only after receiving a reply to its proposal.
He predicted that the PA’s stance would be announced by Monday.
The Fatah official said that Abbas had asked the US Administration to wait a few days for his reply to enable him to consult with Arab leaders.
Abbas has in the past few days discussed the issue of the direct talks with Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Qatar’s Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
Ahmed claimed that the Arab leaders were now demanding the Americans be actively involved in the talks.
On Thursday, Acting Deputy Department Spokesman Mark C. Toner said in Washington that he believed progress had been made toward such talks when US special envoy Senator George Mitchell visited Israel and the Palestinian territories last week.
“Obviously, we’re working through the details, but we have confidence that we’re moving in the right direction and ultimately will be successful,” said Toner.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday followed Mitchell’s efforts by working the phones in hopes of persuading Israel and the Palestinians to come to the table.
The State Department said Friday that Clinton had called Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt to discuss remaining obstacles to getting the talks under way.
Kocijancic said the issue was also a high priority for Ashton, who is in “regular touch with the leaders of the region, quartet envoy Blair and, in particular, with Senator Mitchell.”
An Israeli official told the Post that Netanyahu has wanted to talk face-toface with Abbas for the last 18 months without pre-conditions.
“We are ready to start direct talks if [Abbas] is ready to step up to the plate,” said the official, adding, “It is about time.” The official cautioned that this was not the first time the two parties had appeared to be on the verge of talks.
“I have heard this before,” the official said.
On Saturday, the Prime Minister’s Office denied a report in the Londonbased Al-Hayat newspaper claiming that Netanyahu was working on a plan to present to Abbas that called for the withdrawal of 50,000 West Bank settlers, out of the 300,000 who live there.
AP contributed to this report.