Palestinian leaders defer decision on restarting peace talks

PLO officials against latest Kerry offer, saying Israel must first recognize 1967 borders as base for talks; State Dept. spokeswoman denies Al-Hayat report, saying no plans to announce renewed Mideast peace talks on Friday.

Abbas with a Jerusalem background 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Abbas with a Jerusalem background 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Palestinian leaders on Thursday put off a decision about restarting peace talks with Israel, with most saying Israel must first meet their terms before negotiations can start, a Palestinian official said.
Qais Abdel-Karim, an official with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), told Reuters after the meeting headed by President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank that a committee would convene on Friday to discuss the matter further.
"There is a general tendency among PLO officials to reject resuming negotiations before Israel recognizes the 1967 borders as a base for the peace process and end (West Bank) settlement activity," Abel-Karim said.
In a seemingly contradictory report, a different unnamed PLO official told Israeli news site Ynet that the Fatah Central Committee has voted in favor of resuming peace talks with Israel. Palestinian sources told the site that 21 Fatah Central Committee members voted in favor of the current US-led plan, while only two voted against it.
However, Ynet also quotes different Palestinian sources as saying the Fatah Central Committee members demanded clear international guarantees before returning to the negotiating table. According to the report, Fatah decided to wait for a PLO decision.
Earlier on Thursday, the London-based Al-Hayat reported that US Secretary of State John Kerry was set to announce the resumption of peace talks before leaving Amman on Friday morning.
Citing sources at the Palestinian embassy in Amman, the report stated that there has been significant process between Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
But US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki denied the report, saying there are no plans at the moment to announce a return to the negotiating table.
"There are currently no plans for an announcement for the resumption of negotiations," Psaki said in Amman, where Kerry is on his sixth visit to the region to try to revive peace talks that broke down nearly three years ago.
On Wednesday evening, Kerry urged Israel to carefully consider the 2002 Arab League peace initiative, in a comment that could presage this initiative becoming part of the terms of reference for restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
"Israel needs to look hard at this initiative, which promises Israel peace with 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations - a total of 57 nations that are standing and waiting for the possibility of making peace with Israel," he said in Amman, where he met officials from Arab League member countries and Abbas.
The plan, put forward by Saudi Arabia at an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002, offered full recognition of Israel but only if it returned fully to the June 4, 1967 lines, including on the Golan Heights and in east Jerusalem, and to a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees. Softening the plan three months ago, a top Qatari official raised the possibility of land swaps in setting future Israeli-Palestinian borders.
Kerry voiced confidence he was on track toward achieving soon a resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, saying gaps had been greatly narrowed.
"We have been able to narrow these gaps very significantly. And so we continue to get closer and I continue to remain hopeful that the sides can soon be able to come and sit at the same table."
His meeting with Abbas in the Jordanian capital was Kerry's second in as many days.
Following the meeting Abbas began briefing fellow PLO leaders in Ramallah on the US proposals ahead of a decision on whether they should resume negotiations with Israel
Mahmoud Al-Aloul, an official with Fatah, sounded a pessimistic note to reporters after initial consultations. "With the current formula, matters are not encouraging. But no decision has been made," he said.
Aloul did not elaborate but appeared to be alluding to reports Kerry's formula lacked any mention of stopping settlement construction and that they would agree to Kerry saying they would recognize Israel as Jewish state.
The Arab League endorsed Kerry's peace efforts Wednesday, saying in a statement carried on the Jordanian news agency that it hoped this could lead to a two-state solution.
The statement said that the Arab League delegation in Amman affirmed "its support for Kerry's great efforts to revive peace talks between the Palestinian and Israeli sides and pointed out that the ideas put forward by Kerry before the committee provide the ground and a suitable environment to start negotiations, especially in new and important political, economic and security issues".
The League delegation "expressed hope that this will lead to a launch of serious negotiations to address all final status issues to end the conflict and achieve a just and comprehensive peace between the Palestinians and Israelis which will bless the region with security, stability and prosperity." The delegation emphasized "its commitment to the Arab peace initiative, stressing that any future agreement must be based on a two-state solution through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the lines of the fourth of June 1967 with a limited exchange of territory of the same value and size".
The League officials expressed "appreciation to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry for their efforts and their commitment to achieve peace" and also "their commitment to achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East in cooperation with the United States and with all relevant parties." Neither US nor Palestinian officials have given details of the discussions between Abbas and Kerry, who is making his sixth visit to the region since he took office in February.
Israeli officials declined to comment on the matter until after the PLO leaders make their decision.