Roni Sofer
Ynetnews (Analysis)
January 5, 2010 - 1:00am,7340,L-3829740,00.html

An official at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem said Monday night that some of the remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier in the day included "positive statements in regards to restarting the negotiations."

The official added, however, that until Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman return from Washington, it is unclear when the peace talks would be launched, although there is a possibility that the negotiations could begin by the end of January.

Following his meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday, Abbas called for a complete halt to Israeli settlement construction in order to reignite the peace process.

"We are interested in negotiations, we do not object to resuming the meetings with the Israelis and we are not setting any preconditions, but at the same time in order for us to return (to the negotiation table) – there must be a halt to settlement building and recognition of the peace process' principles," said the Palestinian leader.

Jerusalem officials say that at this stage there is no plan to prepare additional gestures to the Palestinians ahead of a resumption of the negotiations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said in closed forums, "We have done what we have to do. Now it's their turn."

Israel is currently waiting for the Palestinians and continuing its talks with the Americans. US President Barack Obama's special envoy, George Mitchell, is expected to visit the Middle East in mid January following a tour of Europe.

According to estimates, by the time he arrives Israel will already know whether Abbas is serious about launching negotiations, and Mitchell's trip will be dedicated to "finalizing the last details" in order to allow talks between the sides.

It should be noted, however, that there is one very skeptical official in Jerusalem. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Quartet envoy Tony Blair on Monday that a final status agreement within nine months, or a final agreement within two years, could not be reached.

"The goal is unrealistic," he said. "It's important to hold an open and honest dialogue with the Palestinians without putting forward and committing to dates." He noted that several dates had been set in the past, which were not and only led to escalation and renewed violence.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017