Ali Waked
March 4, 2010 - 1:00am,7340,L-3857898,00.html

The Palestinian Authority is engaging in consultations ahead of the resumption of indirect peace talks with Israel, a senior Palestinian source told Ynet on Thursday.

According to the source, the indirect negotiations are expected to be launched in the coming days, during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden and Special Envoy George Mitchell to the region.

The Palestinian experts slated to deal with the issue have already been summoned to Ramallah, including map experts, as the Palestinians plan to raise the issue of the permanent agreement borders in their talks with Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday welcomed Biden's arrival, saying he hoped it would help move the peace process forward.

"I'm glad that we have made progress and things have matured," Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, which was postponed from Sunday due to the holiday of Purim. . "Our goal is direct talks, but we have always said that we won't insist on the format. We said that this government wants a peace process, and I would like to add that it also wants to complete it."

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer accused Iran of thwarting the talks. "I welcome the decision to resume the negotiations with the Palestinians. The problem is not the Palestinians or Syria, but Iran. In order to turn our attention to the Iranian problem we must become free of the Palestinian issue. In the meantime, it's would be better to start with indirect negotiations."

Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz expressed his reservations. "I don't understand what these talks are about. So far the Palestinians have not even agreed to talk. Clearly, direct talks would be better, but if this is a way to bring them to direct negotiations, then it's an appropriate way."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said before the cabinet meeting that the Labor Party was committed to resuming the peace process. "We have been working on resuming the talks with the Palestinians for some time now. We appreciate the American and Egyptian effort to launch the talks, which will lead to a practical outline dealing with the core issues. This government's supreme commitment, particularly with the Labor Party in it, is to resume the peace process."

Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog joined him by calling on the Palestinians to "move towards peace together." According to Herzog, "Indirect talks are better than nothing.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz added, "Although we are interested in direct negotiations, I am not against indirect talks which will eventually lead to direct talks."

What will Erekat, Molcho discuss?
The Palestinian source said the negotiations would start, at the latest, after the Arab League meeting in Libya in about two weeks. He downplayed the Arab foreign ministers' decision to green light the indirect talks, saying that it was an agreement in principle to resume the talks, but that the issues to be discussed were unclear.

The same source added that the Palestinians were demanding that the indirect negotiations would deal with the permanent agreement and with the borders issue. Israel has yet to decide on the matter.

"Envoy Mitchell will try to help us reach a joint decision on the subjects of the negotiations, as this point is unclear," the Palestinian source clarified, stressing that the indirect talks would not last more than four months and would be subject to the mandate given by the Arab League's foreign ministers.

The Palestinian side will be represented by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and the Israeli side will be represented by Attorney Yitzhak Molcho. The talks are expected to take place Ramallah and Jerusalem, but they may also be held in the United States – with Mitchell's people mediating between the delegations.


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