Israel, Palestinians may announce indirect peace talks next week
Israel and the Palestinians may announce the start of indirect peace negotiations early next week, officials on both sides said Friday.
The talks would end a 15-month freeze in the negotiations, broken off as Israel headed into new elections last year, which saw the hardline Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu return to power, DPA reported.
The US, which is to mediate the "proximity talks," wants to announce their start before Vice President Joe Biden arrives on Monday, Israel Radio reported, quoting a senior Israeli government official.
Biden's visit is his first to Israel and the West Bank as vice president.
Washington's envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is expected to arrive on Saturday night.
The Arab League, meeting in Cairo Wednesday, lent its support to the indirect talks, albeit with a four-month deadline.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to ask his Fatah party and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for their backing on Sunday.
Fatah's Central Committee and the PLO's Executive Committee are scheduled to hold separate meetings on Sunday, PLO Executive Committee member Assam Salhi told the German Press-Agency dpa.
Abbas is scheduled to meet Mitchell on Monday and formally inform him of his decision, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
Netanyahu told his cabinet in Jerusalem on Thursday that "We welcome the start of talks, even if they are proximity talks."
Netanyahu said Israel's goal was "to reach a peace agreement with our Palestinian neighbours via direct talks," but, he added, "we do not necessarily insist on this format."
"If this is what is necessary to start the process Israel is ready," he said.
Direct Israeli-Palestinian talks were suspended in late 2008, when Israel began an election campaign, which ultimately saw Netanyahu replace the centrist Ehud Olmert as prime minister.
The negotiations have not been resumed since Netanyahu was sworn into office at the end of March 2009. The Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt completely all construction in West Bank settlements and in East Jerusalem before talks could be resumed.
Netanyahu declared a 10-month, partial moratorium on settlement construction in late November, but Abbas rejected this as insufficient because it excludes East Jerusalem.
The proximity talks formula was raised by the US as an interim compromise, before direct talks could be held in the future.