K'Ehleyr8 May 2010 at 4:27pmPosts: 8422 (0 today)Status: offline
Palestinian approval opens door to Mideast talks
By Ali Sawafta
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Saturday approved indirect talks with Israel, clearing the way for the first negotiations in 18 months and giving a boost to U.S. peace diplomacy.
U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell will conduct the talks by shuttling between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian and Israeli officials said. "This is the appropriate form that can make these negotiations real and serious," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official, after the body approved four months of indirect talks.
The start of the talks, to which Israel has already agreed in principle, could be announced later on Saturday when Mitchell meets Abbas, he said. Israel welcomed the PLO decision, Israel radio quoted a senior source as saying.
The United States has sought to revive the peace process, calling the Middle East conflict a "vital national security interest." However many doubt whether the latest U.S. effort can succeed where years of diplomacy have failed.
Mitchell proposed the indirect talks as a way to break an impasse over Jewish settlement construction on Israeli-occupied land where the Palestinians aim to establish a state alongside Israel.
Abbas had rejected any resumption of peace talks stalled for 18 months, until Israel halted all settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The PLO's decision was taken partly due to U.S. guarantees "regarding settlement activity, its danger and the need for it to stop," Abed Rabbo said.
"The United States will take a firm political position on any provocations that influence the path of the political process and the negotiations," he said.
ALL ISSUES ON TABLE, PLO SAYS
The PLO executive had initially approved the indirect talks in March. But the U.S. initiative was derailed when Israel announced plans for new homes in occupied areas of Jerusalem - a move that infuriated the Palestinians and the United States.
Israeli officials have denied speculation that Netanyahu, who has faced unusually harsh U.S. criticism, has promised to shelve building projects in East Jerusalem.
Israel annexed the eastern half of the city as part of its capital and surrounding West Bank land after its capture in the 1967 Middle East war. World powers have never recognized the move.
The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they hope to found in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Under U.S. pressure, Netanyahu announced in November a 10-month settlement building freeze in the West Bank, but it was not enough to draw Abbas back to negotiations. Abed Rabbo said the agenda of the indirect talks would include "Jerusalem, borders, refugees and security."
Israeli leaders have said the Palestinians can raise core issues in the indirect talks, but only direct negotiations can resolve them. Israel has said it wants the proximity talks to progress quickly to the direct stage.