Peace talks possible if sides agree on borders, Abbas says
Direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks could resume if the sides agree on the borders of a Palestinian state, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday, dpa reported.
"If we set the borders we can go back to negotiations, but the Israelis do not want to set the borders," Abbas said in Jordan, as Israeli and Palestinian officials prepared to hold their fifth and final session of exploratory talks in Amman, Jordan about relaunching the long-stalled peace process.
In Amman, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said late Wednesday there would be a one-week cessation in the meetings. The break will allow an assessment of the outcome of the past three weeks of talks, he said.
"There will be no meetings in Amman next week between the Palestinian and Israeli sides so that we can evaluate what we have achieved and how to move to the next stage," Judeh was quoted as saying by the official Petra news agency.
He stopped short of saying whether the planned meeting for Wednesday took place between chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho.
Abbas said the Jordan-brokered talks with Israel had "revived hopes" of restarting the direct negotiations, which broke off 16 months ago.
"The Palestinian-Israeli encounters were exploratory meetings and not negotiations," Abbas told reporters after discussions with Jordanian King Abdullah II that focused on the outcome of the four rounds of Palestinian-Israeli talks in Amman since January 3.
"The Jordanian move has revived hopes and put things on the right track so that Israel will have no pretext after that," he said. He added that Israel's failure to halt settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem "proves the Israeli side has no intention of concluding peace."
The last round of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks broke off at the end of September 2010, after Israel refused to extend a partial and limited 10-month moratorium on construction in its West Bank settlements.
Palestinians refused to return to the negotiating table, unless the moratorium was renewed and widened to include East Jerusalem. In addition, Abbas also insisted that Israel agree to a Palestinian state based on the borders which existed before the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt.
The exploratory talks hosted in Jordan were launched in early January, in a last-minute bid to revive the peace process, before Palestinians step up their diplomatic campaign at the United Nations as an alternative to negotiations with Israel.
Wednesday's planned parley was intended to take place a day before expiry of a deadline set by the Quartet of the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.
The Palestinians have warned they will not continue the talks after the January 26 deadline. Abbas said that, once the exploratory talks were finished, he would "evaluate the situation with the (Jordanian) king" in preparation for the February 4 meeting of the Arab follow-up committee to "decide the next step."
Earlier Wednesday, an official confirmed that Israeli and Palestinian envoys had clashed over the makeup of their delegations during their last meeting in Jordan.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat refused to enter the room where the talks were held Saturday, because the Israelis had unexpectedly brought along a security expert, said the official, who is close to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee.
Erekat, therefore, refused to hear the Israeli position on security in the presence of the expert, because that person was not an official member of the Israeli delegation and unauthorized to be there.
"They tried to introduce a security expert and it was not part of the exploratory talks," the official told dpa on condition of anonymity.
"We did not want to start any meeting with the presence of (people) who were not supposed to be in the meeting," he said.
The official said Israel had so far failed to submit its positions on the two negotiation issues of borders and security, despite an expectation it would do so in the second round of the Jordan talks.
During Wednesday's meeting, King Abdullah briefed Abbas on the outcome of his visit last week to the United States, where he received President Barack Obama's backing for hosting the Palestinian-Israeli talks, according to a royal court statement.
"The monarch pledged that Jordan will continue to do whatever it can to ensure the availability of the climate that permits the relaunching of Palestinian-Israeli talks that tackle all final status issues in the run-up for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lines," the statement read.