Erekat: Palestinians in position of strength for first time

Other News Materials 11 June 2009 11:54 (UTC +04:00)

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Wednesday the Palestinians are in a position of strength vis-a-vis Israel for the first time in their history, Haaretz reported referring to BBC

Speaking to the BBC, Erekat said American pressure on Israel would probably succeed and move the peace process forward.

The Palestinian Authority has been pleased in recent weeks with the tough U.S. stance on Israeli settlement construction, reflecting Palestinian complaints that construction in the settlements is a key obstacle to a peace agreement, one they say helped cause the intifada in 2000.

Sources close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas say that the Obama administration has shifted the Mideast agenda, taking a tough position on settlements. Senior Palestinian officials add that even American Jewish organizations are unwilling to take a strong stance to defend Israel on the issue.

U.S. President Barack Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, met Wednesday in Ramallah with Abbas.

After the meeting, Mitchell said the United States hoped negotiations on a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would begin immediately, leading to an "early conclusion" of talks.

Mitchell did not present a timetable for renewing talks, but stressed that the conflict's only viable solution was for two states. He said both parties must meet their obligations under the road map blueprint of 2003.

Palestinian sources say that Abbas presented Mitchell with maps that showed the latest expansion of several Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as well as Israeli plans for further construction.

Abbas also reportedly discussed East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed following the Six-Day War. Mitchell was shown maps containing construction plans for the Silwan neighborhood on the southern slopes of Jerusalem's Old City, as well as other locations in the eastern part of the city.

The Palestinian sources say Abbas made it clear that the PA would not resume final-status talks until Israel accepted the principle of a two-state solution, and until Israel imposed a total freeze on settlements.

Mitchell gave no details on whether the United States intended to unveil a peace plan in the near future, but the assumption in Ramallah is that the Americans will present a preliminary plan of their own in July.

Palestinian sources also noted that they and the Americans are awaiting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's policy speech at Bar-Ilan University on Sunday; only then will the Americans decide how to proceed.