Mohammed Assadi, Alastair MacDonald
February 18, 2010 - 1:00am

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met a senior aide to U.S. envoy George Mitchell on Thursday, part of Washington's effort to relaunch peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat confirmed the scheduled meeting with David Hale had taken place in Ramallah. But like the Americans he offered no comment on what was discussed.

U.S. officials had announced the meeting after Erekat met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Qatar on Sunday. Mitchell and his team maintain a strict silence about their discussions.

Abbas has been seeking details from U.S. officials on how a proposal that Washington would host "proximity talks" involving Israeli and Palestinian envoys would work. Aides say he has been looking for "guarantees" that any such talks would quickly move to seeking final agreements on the core issues of the conflict.

Abbas, who broke off negotiations with the previous Israeli government in December 2008 in protest at its offensive in the Gaza Strip, has refused to hold talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while Israel expands West Bank settlements.

Netanyahu in November ordered a 10-month freeze on building in some settlements on land Israel occupied in 1967 but refuses to extend that ban to building around East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in a move not recognised internationally.

The United States and other Western powers are urging Abbas to drop his condition that Israel freeze all settlements and want him to resume talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state. Abbas says Israeli settlements are making it ever harder to found a viable state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.


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