Khaled Abu Toameh
The Jerusalem Post
August 11, 2010 - 12:00am

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and US envoy George Mitchell on Tuesday failed to reach agreement on the issue of direct talks between the PA and Israel.

The two men met in Ramallah to discuss the latest developments surrounding the peace process and US efforts to launch direct talks between the two parties.

Abbas reiterated during the three-hour meeting his readiness to move to direct talks with Israel if a number of conditions were met, including Israeli recognition of the pre- 1967 lines as the future borders of a Palestinian state, chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

Still, the US envoy came out of the meeting indicating that progress had been made ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.

He called the encounter with Abbas “serious and positive,” according to US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

“They’re getting closer,” Crowley said, “but we have not yet reached home plate.”

Mitchell referred to a “defined timeline” and “agenda” for talks, according to Crowley, which is something else the Palestinians are seeking as a condition of direct negotiations.

Crowley also indicated that there might be movement on another Palestinian demand, that the Quartet re-issue its statement calling on Israel to halt settlements, noting that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been consulting with her counterparts on the international body comprising the US, EU, UN and Russia.

“If a Quartet statement can be helpful in encouraging the parties to move forward, obviously I think that’s something the United States supports,” Crowley said.

Abbas has repeatedly called for a complete cessation of settlement construction and a timetable for the implementation of any agreement that is reached between the two sides, Erekat said.

“We’re not against direct talks,” Erekat stressed after the meeting with Mitchell. “In fact, we want direct talks, but with a clear agenda, framework and timeline. We also want a cessation of settlement construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

Crowley, asked about the Palestinian desire for a framework for the talks, said that it was clear.

“The ingredients of a final solution are well known to everyone – Jerusalem, refugees, borders and security, so we do know the parameters,” he said.

He added that direct talks were the necessary venue to address those issues, one that continued the US involvement of the proximity- talk process.

According to Erekat, the “key to launching direct talks is in the hands of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.”

Erekat also said that direct negotiations would begin when Netanyahu halts settlement construction and accepts the pre-1967 lines as the future borders of a Palestinian state.

“These are not Palestinian conditions, but obligations that the Israeli government is required to fulfill in accordance with signed agreements,” Erekat said.

He described the Abbas-Mitchell talks as thorough and positive, but went on to say that no agreement had been reached yet regarding the proposed direct negotiations.

On the eve of his meeting with the US emissary, Abbas complained that he was facing “immense and unprecedented” pressure to negotiate directly with Israel.

“We’ve never been under such pressure,” Abbas told a group of Palestinian journalists in his office.

“We have so far resisted the pressure.

Every phone call I receive is pressure. Everyone tells me that they salute me for my bravery and keenness to achieve peace, but they also ask me to enter direct negotiations.”

Abbas said that the pressure he was facing these days was “intolerable.”

“No human being could tolerate the kind of pressure we are under,” he said.


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