Palestinian leadership agrees to indirect talks with Israel

Jerusalem, March 7 (DPA) The Palestinian leadership Sunday green-lighted indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians, after a 15-month hiatus in negotiations — paving the way for a possible resumption of the Middle East peace process.

Executive committee Secretary General Yasser Abed Rabbo told reporters that the committee had decided to give a chance to the US proposal for the indirect talks, as a means of getting back to the negotiating table.

The decision to go for the indirect negotiations, taken at a meeting Sunday of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee, comes as visiting US Middle East envoy George

Mitchell held his first full day of talks on his latest mission to bring the sides together.

A formal announcement on the start of the indirect talks – proximity talks in the official parlance – could come as early as Monday, when US Vice President Joe Biden arrives in Israel.

Mitchell, who arrived in Israel Saturday night, met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Sunday afternoon, a few kilometres from where the PLO Executive Committee was convening in Ramallah.

He was slated to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Monday.

Fayez Abu Eita, a spokesman for Abbas’ Fatah movement, the dominant party in the PLO, said the indirect talks would be limited by a four-month deadline and would deal with the issues of land, borders and security.

If the US administration received an Israeli go-ahead for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders – those of the West Bank at the start of the 1967 Middle East war – then the sides could begin holding direct talks, he said.

The US administration and its European partners have sought to restart direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in recent months, following their suspension in late 2008 as Israel began the election campaign which ended with the right-wing Netanyahu replacing the centrist Ehud Olmert as prime minister.

Abbas has insisted there is “no point” in restarting direct negotiations while Israeli construction in its West Bank settlements continues.

Although Netanyahu has instituted a partial 10-month moratorium on construction in the West Bank, Palestinians insist this is insufficient, since it does not include East Jerusalem, and is

limited in scope.

On Wednesday, the Arab League, meeting in Cairo, agreed that the Palestinians could hold indirect talks with Israel, but on condition the talks were not open-ended but limited to only four months.

Israeli observers have expressed scepticism that the upcoming talks will lead to a breakthrough, noting that the sides are further apart in their basic positions now than they were when the talks broke off in late 2008.

“For the time being, the distance between Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Mazen (Abbas) is immeasurable,” commentator Shimon Shiffer wrote in the Yediot Ahronot daily.



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