Palestinians to attend Mideast talks
Ramallah - The Palestinians on Saturday accepted a French invitation to attend a conference in Paris aimed at reviving peace talks with Israel, as their strategy to bypass negotiations and seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state appeared to be unravelling.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians were prepared to go to Paris and were waiting for Israeli and American responses.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe extended the invitation earlier this week in a visit to the region, saying the conference could take place later this month. Israel has not replied to Juppe's invitation and had no comment on Saturday on the Palestinian acceptance, which came with no conditions attached.
The Palestinians have refused to return to the bargaining table for months because Israel has rejected their demand to halt all settlement construction on lands they claim for a future state. At the same time, they have been preparing to ask the UN General Assembly in September to recognise a Palestinian state, with or without a peace deal.
Palestinian officials said they had no high hopes for a French-led conference but would attend in an effort to restart talks that broke down in late 2008 and revived only briefly this past September before collapsing over Israeli settlement construction.
Peace blueprint 'disappointing'
Historically, the US, not Europe, has taken the lead in trying to wrest an agreement from Israel and the Palestinians.
Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama tried to entice the Palestinians to resume talks by asserting in a high-profile policy speech that Israel's boundaries before the 1967 Mideast war should be a starting point for talks on future borders, with mutually agreed land swaps that would let Israel hold on to major West Bank settlement blocs.
The Palestinians had long sought an explicit statement to this effect from Washington. But they were disappointed by the peace blueprint Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined later in a speech before the US Congress, dismissing it as a non-starter because it disregards many of their key demands.
Juppe has said the boundaries that existed before Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war would also be the starting point at the Paris talks, a condition Israel is loathe to accept.
Under the French proposal, thornier issues would be left for a year later, including the status of contested Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees from the war surrounding Israel's 1948 creation.
The proposal does not call on Israel to freeze settlement construction, a long-time Palestinian condition for resuming talks. But a deal on borders would get around the issue since Israel could resume construction on territory it expects to keep.
Tactically, acceptance of the French overture could shield the Palestinians from criticism that they are standing in the way of efforts to revive talks. Their willingness to attend also comes as their strategy for bypassing talks appears to be falling apart.
The Palestinians had hoped to count on growing international support for gaining statehood recognition at the UN outside of the framework of peace negotiations.
But a top UN official undercut that strategy last week when he said there was no way a Palestinian state could become a member of the UN without a recommendation from the Security Council. That is unlikely because Obama has hinted strongly that the US would exercise its veto power on the council to block such a move.
On Saturday, a senior Palestinian official said Abbas has concluded that a statehood push at the UN would not advance the Palestinians' cause.
Abbas' initiative, he said, will be compromised by the fact that the Palestinians first have to seek support from the Security Council before going to the General Assembly, where the Palestinians are more confident of obtaining majority support.
The Palestinian leadership has concluded that the most they could wrest from the UN General Assembly would be a non-binding affirmation of previous resolutions stating that the Palestinians have the right to a state, he added.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which Abbas heads, intends to go ahead with its plan to approach the UN, in order to save face among the Palestinian people, he said.
Another senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement on Saturday calling on the international community "to support the admission of Palestine as a member state in the United Nations".