Sunday, 7 March 2010

Palestinians accept US offer to enter indirect talks with Israel

Palestinian leaders said representatives would join indirect peace talks with Israel yesterday as the American envoy met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem to launch the initiative.


By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

George Mitchell, President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy, has applied intense pressure on both sides to resume talks, broken off after Mr Netanyahu's election a year ago.

"The Palestinian leadership has decided to give an opportunity for the American suggestion to hold indirect talks between the Israeli and Palestinian sides," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official.

Mr Mitchell will shuttle between the two sides during four months of "proximity" talks in which the Israelis and Palestinians will not meet directly. The two teams are expected to sit in Ramallah and Jerusalem – a 15-minute drive – or in separate rooms in an American facility.

Commentators ridiculed the idea after 17 years of direct peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO but Mr Mitchell is said to regard the formula as the only route to resume negotiations. Indirect talks are generally used when the two sides refuse to recognise each other, as in negotiations between Israel and Hamas to free captured soldier Gilad Shalit, conducted through Egyptian and German mediation.

Palestinian leaders agreed to go ahead after the Arab League approved the move last week.

The Palestinians have called for a 10-month settlement freeze announced by Mr Netanyahu last November be extended permanently and that the status of East Jerusalem – seen by Palestinians as their future capital – be placed on the agenda.

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