PLO agrees indirect talks: Israel

2010-03-07 16:41
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a meeting of the Fatah party's executive committee in the West Bank city of Ramalla. (Majdi Mohammed, AP Photo)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a meeting of the Fatah party's executive committee in the West Bank city of Ramalla. (Majdi Mohammed, AP Photo) (Majdi Mohammed)

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Ramallah - The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) met on Sunday to consider whether to launch indirect talks with Israel in line with US efforts to revive the peace process. They did agree to enter into indirect talks.

The executive committee of the umbrella organisation had been expected to approve a return to talks with Israel's hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but several members were sceptical about their chances of success.

"We think it's unlikely that these indirect negotiations with the Netanyahu government will succeed but we want to give an opportunity to the US administration to continue its efforts," Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior official in president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement, told AFP.

"Even if we agree, we have restrictions and requirements according to what the Palestinian people and the factions want, which means we might say 'Yes, we agree, but'," he added.

Abbas has refused direct negotiations with Israel without a complete freeze of settlements but indicated he would enter into indirect talks after Arab foreign ministers approved them last week for a period of four months.

The PLO Executive Committee includes Fatah and several smaller factions but not the Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza, which is adamantly opposed to any negotiations with Israel.

The leaders of some smaller factions said ahead of the meeting that they would not support indirect negotiations.

Negotiations need clear foundation

"The resumption of negotiations, whether direct or indirect, demands a clear foundation for a serious peace process leading to tangible results," Bassam al-Salhi, the head of the People's Party, told AFP.

"This foundation has not been provided and so we think the decision to participate in indirect negotiations is a mistake."

Peace talks have ground to a halt since Israel's war on Hamas in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

In recent months US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy between the two sides in a bid to bring them back to the negotiating table.

Netanyahu has repeatedly called for direct talks but has refused to freeze settlement growth, instead enacting a 10-month halt to building starts in the West Bank that excludes east Jerusalem, public buildings and existing projects.

The Palestinians have said the move is insufficient to restart talks.

Agreed to indirect talks

The Palestinian leadership agreed on Sunday to enter into indirect US-led peace talks with Israel, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official announced.

"The Palestinian leadership has decided to give an opportunity for the American suggestion to hold indirect talks between the Israeli and Palestinian sides," Yasser Abed Rabbo told reporters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The decision at a meeting of the PLO executive committee came after Arab foreign ministers last week expressed grudging support for the talks, following months of shuttle diplomacy by US Middle East envoy George Mitchell.

Read more on:    plo  |  fatah  |  george mitchell  |  benjamin netanyahu  |  mahmoud abbas  |  palestine  |  israel  |  middle east peace
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