Sunday, August 15, 2010

Europeans dictate preconditions for Mideast talks

From Reuters Africa, Thu Aug 12, 2010, by Douglas Hamilton*:

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Major powers are working on a statement to set the basis for direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians...[European Union's foreign policy chief ] Catherine Ashton said ...the statement would be issued early next week, if both parties agreed to proceed to direct talks, and negotiations launched in August.

...Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas indicated Monday he could go to direct talks, provided they were based on a March 19 statement by the Quartet.

Israeli newspapers said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. envoy George Mitchell Wednesday he wanted talks to start immediately without any such "precondition." ..."The government of Israel has been calling for the immediate start of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians for more than a year now," [Netanyahu's spokesman Mark] Regev told Reuters.

...Abbas refuses to engage in direct talks...Ashton said the Quartet initiative "should help President Abbas rally enough support, both at home and abroad, to engage in direct talks."

The Quartet says Israel should halt settlement building in the West Bank and reach a full peace agreement with the Palestinians within 24 months, creating a state on the basis of the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.

Ashton's letter made clear that these terms, contained in the Quartet's statement from Moscow on March 19, would form the basis of its statement "to be issued concurrently with the announcement of the launch of direct talks."

...Both sides have discussed a possible land swap to adjust borders under any deal, as Israel has sought to maintain control over several major settlement blocs in the West Bank.

U.S. President Barack Obama wants the peace process to return to the level it broke off at nearly two years ago, when Israel went to war in the winter of 2008-09 to stop rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip by Hamas militants.

The window of opportunity is narrowing. A partial 10-month moratorium on Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank, ordered by Netanyahu last November, is due to end on September 26, posing a potentially fatal threat to any dialogue.

(*Additional reporting by Luke Baker in Brussels and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; editing by Alison Williams)
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