Herb Keinon
The Jerusalem Post
August 6, 2010 - 12:00am

Saudi Arabia is urging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to enter direct talks with Israel, and can “sweeten a deal” by offering financial assistance for agreeing to negotiations, a top Israeli diplomatic official said on Thursday.

According to the official, the US – which is pressing Abbas to enter the talks – was behind a meeting in Riyadh on Wednesday between Abbas and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

“The Saudis can have a lot of influence,” the official said, adding that they have thrown their weight – along with Egypt and Jordan – behind efforts to coax Abbas back to the table.

Last week the Arab League gave Abbas the green light to enter direct negotiations if he desired.

“Everyone now realizes the key is in his hands,” the official said.

Over the past few months the US has invested a great deal of effort trying to get Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to back a return to direct negotiations, and to urge Abbas to go back to the table.

Abbas, meanwhile, does not – at least publicly – seem to be budging, reiterating his position after the meeting late on Wednesday with Abdullah that he would start negotiations only if Israel agreed to a complete settlement freeze and to the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, by contrast, is calling for direct talks without any preconditions.

Meanwhile, Dennis Ross, a special adviser to US President Barack Obama, arrived in Israel on Thursday for a series of meetings that, according to diplomatic sources, will focus both on the Palestinian issue and Iran. Following Ross’s meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Barak issued a statement saying they discussed the situation in Lebanon and ways to prevent a recurrence of Tuesday’s border skirmish, and the need to find a basis for “regional cooperation in the struggle against the radical axis and against outside forces threatening the stability of the region.”

Diplomatic sources said it was not clear when US envoy George Mitchell would return to the region, as he was waiting for a decision by Abbas on direct talks before coming back.


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