Tom Perry
July 15, 2010 - 12:00am

The Palestinian president's Fatah party said on Thursday there should be no move to face-to-face Middle East peace talks sought by the United States without progress in the indirect talks it is mediating.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy on Saturday, is facing pressure from Washington to agree to direct negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- who says he is ready to start talks with the Palestinian leader right away.

But Abbas is wary of negotiating directly with an Israeli leader he believes unwilling to settle the Middle East conflict on terms acceptable to the Palestinians.

The Fatah statement, which criticised calls for a move to direct negotiations, illustrated the domestic pressure Abbas is facing to resist more direct peace talks with Israel.

The Palestinian leader has been a central figure in years of fruitless diplomacy aimed at negotiating the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Fatah blamed a "lack of credibility" on the part of Israel for a lack of progress in the indirect talks, which got under way two months ago and are being mediated by George Mitchell, the U.S. envoy.

The Israeli approach would "cement itself ... if there is a move to direct negotiations", the Fatah statement said, urging Palestinians to rally around the leadership.

Abbas says the indirect talks should make progress towards agreement on the borders of the state the Palestinians aim to establish alongside Israel on land it occupied in a 1967 war and security arrangements for the "two-state solution".

In a speech on Saturday, he also said Israel must halt building Jewish settlements on occupied land. But he did not repeat his demand for a full settlement halt as a condition for direct talks with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has said he is willing to discuss right away the future of Jewish settlements if the Palestinians enter direct talks.

George Giacaman, a political scientist at Birzeit University in the West Bank, said the pressure on Abbas to resume direct talks with Israel would be "immense".

"The main issue is how to go back to direct negotations without completely losing face," he said. "I don't know that a return to direct talks is inevitable."


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