Palestinians: Israel must freeze settlements for direct talks
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must announce a settlement freeze if he wants to meet face-to-face with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a senior official said Thursday dpa reported
The settlement freeze and release of prisoners is a prerequisite for direct negotiations, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated.
He spoke after the diplomatic group on the Middle East peace process - the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia, known as the Quartet - welcomed a meeting between Netanyahu and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad next week.
It is to be the first high-level Israeli-Palestinian meeting since January.
At the meeting, likely to take place Tuesday in Jerusalem, Netanyahu's office said he "will propose raising the level of the talks and to hold them directly with Abu Mazen (Abbas)."
Fayyad plans to give Netanyahu a letter from Abbas regarding the future of the peace process.
Netanyahu's envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, is expected to meet with Abbas and also give him a letter about Israel's position regarding a future agreement with the Palestinians, the premier's office said.
Apart from a few short-lived efforts, there have been no negotiations in the past three years since Netanyahu took office at the head of a right-wing government. The Palestinians have conditioned talks on a freeze of Israeli construction in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, representing the Quartet, met in Washington Wednesday and discussed ways to advance the dialogue.
Netanyahu's office said Israel welcomed the Quartet statement "that calls for the continuation of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians without preconditions."
Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio: "I hope the Israeli government, which has welcomed the statement, will implement its call for a halt to settlements and meet its other obligations."
He said the Quartet should announce a mechanism for implementation of its calls for peace talks.
The Quartet called on Israel and the Palestinians "to avoid actions that undermine trust and to focus on positive efforts that can strengthen and improve the climate for a resumption of direct negotiations."
It expressed concern about unilateral and provocative actions, "including continued settlement activity," but called negotiations "the only way to a just and durable solution to the conflict."