Barak Ravid
February 19, 2010 - 1:00am

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are to be renewed next week, a senior government official in Jerusalem said on Thurdsay.

Israeli government officials were told by Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger that the Palestinians were ready to resume indirect talks, the senior government official said.

Spindelegger, who visited Israel and the Palestinian territories last week, said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had told him he would consent to the United States' request to renew talks with Israel.

According to the official, Abbas told Spindelegger that negotiations would begin next week.

Abbas met in Ramallah on Thursday with David Hale, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and deputy to U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell.

Hale gave Abbas American assurances regarding the renewal of talks with Israel, including a timetable for the move from indirect to direct talks and clarifications regarding the issue of the 1967 borders. The nature of these clarifications is unclear.

Renewed negotiations are to use the "proximity" talks format, similar to the model of the Israel-Syria talks that were mediated by Turkey. During the indirect phase of the talks, the Israeli and the Palestinian teams will sit in separate locations, and Mitchell and his staff will convey messages between them.

It is unclear whether the talks will take place in Israel or in Washington.

The United States has updated Israel on Hale's talks with Abbas. The Israeli negotiating team also visited Washington last week to clarify Israel's position on conditions for the renewal of talks. The team includes attorney Yitzhak Molcho and Brig. Gen. Mike Herzog.

A senior government source in Israel said that Israel wants the parties to move as soon as possible from proximity talks to direct talks on all core issues - including borders, refugees, Jerusalem and security arrangements. Israel is hoping the direct talks will begin within a number of weeks, or two to three months at the most.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak will go to Washington next week to meet with senior U.S. government officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones. Barak will then head to New York for a meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The defense minister is expected to focus in these meetings on negotiations with the Palestinians, the Iranian nuclear program, the situation on Israel's northern front with Syria and Lebanon, and how to maintain the qualitative edge of the Israel Defense Forces.


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