Palestinian leader says to meet Obama in Washington
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on the verge of indirect negotiations with Israel, said he would meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington this month to advance Middle East peace, Reuters reported.
Obama's peace efforts received a boost on Saturday when Arab states approved four months of U.S.-mediated talks, whose expected start in March was delayed by Israel's announcement of a settlement project on occupied land near Jerusalem.
In an interview published on Sunday in the Palestinian newspaper al-Ayyam, Abbas said Obama had given a commitment he would not allow "any provocative measures by either side."
He said the U.S. leader had invited him to Washington later this month "in an attempt to push the peace process forward." Abbas gave no specific date for the visit.
Calling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a direct security concern to the United States, Washington has pushed hard for a resumption of talks suspended since December 2008.
But many observers question whether the latest effort can succeed where years of diplomacy have failed.
Abbas's last meeting with Obama was in September in New York, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also attended that meeting -- part of Obama's efforts to get the peace process moving again.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week she expected the so-called "proximity talks," to be mediated by special envoy George Mitchell, to begin this week.
PLO officials said the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee was likely to convene within days to give its approval, opening the way for Mitchell to arrive later in the week.
"It looks like the locked situation is being unlocked now," Israeli President Shimon Peres told reporters in Jerusalem.
Abbas has long insisted Israel freeze Jewish settlement building before any negotiations resume, and he had rejected a temporary construction moratorium that Netanyahu ordered in the occupied West Bank last November as insufficient.
Netanyahu, who heads a pro-settler government, has pledged not to curb Israeli home construction in East Jerusalem.
But after angering Washington by announcing a 1,600-home project -- during a visit in March by Vice President Joe Biden -- Israel has not approved new homes for Jews in East Jerusalem, in what some Israeli politicians called a de facto freeze.
Israel captured East Jerusalem along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a 1967 war, and considers all of Jerusalem its capital, a claim that is not recognized internationally.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of the state they intend to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Abbas said the Palestinians had nothing to fear from what he described as Obama's promise not to tolerate actions from either side that could jeopardize peacemaking.
"We accepted this because on our part there are no provocative steps," he said. Abbas said some Israelis had complained that his West Bank-based administration had incited violence against Israel, but the accusations were baseless.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon raised the issue in an interview with Israeli Army Radio on Sunday, calling on the Palestinians to "stop the terrible incitement."
He said Israel had given no commitment to freeze construction in Jerusalem, insisting "no undertaking has been given and none will be given."