Abbas convenes key Palestinians to moot new talks with Israel

RAMALLAH, West Bank Wed Jul 17, 2013 7:51pm EDT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) shakes hands with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh during a meeting at a hotel in Amman July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) shakes hands with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh during a meeting at a hotel in Amman July 16, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mandel Ngan/Pool

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Abbas will confer with key Palestinian leaders on Thursday about a possible resumption of peace negotiations with Israel after an almost three-year freeze, officials said.

They gave no details on what Abbas's terms might be, should he announce a breakthrough after meeting in Jordan with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has pursued six months of intensive and deliberately discreet diplomacy.

Gaps between the sides had "very significantly" narrowed, Kerry said on Wednesday. His proposals to resume negotiations, which were not spelled out, won the endorsement of an Arab League committee, which said they "provide the ground and a suitable environment to start negotiations".

Abbas, whose peace strategy is routinely censured by the Palestinian Islamist rivals ruling the Gaza Strip, has in the past sought support Arab League support to engage the Jewish state but it was not clear whether Wednesday's endorsement would give him enough political cover to resume direct peace talks.

Abbas was due to convene senior members of the umbrella Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and his Fatah party at 3 p.m. (0800 EDT) in Ramallah, hub city of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and seat of his U.S.-backed administration.

"We are expecting to hear from the president the ideas presented by Kerry," top PLO member Wasel Abu Yousef told Reuters.

"There will be a discussion on these ideas, and everyone will say what he thinks about this. The conclusion will be by a general consensus."

Negotiations, which have ebbed and flowed for two decades, last broke down in late 2010 over Israel's West Bank settlements and other sticking points. Since then, Abbas at times has insisted that Israel renew and extend a halt on settlement construction for new talks to be held. Israel ruled that out.

Palestinians familiar with Abbas's thinking speculated he might forgo the demand for a construction halt given a recent slowdown in housing starts issued by the Israeli government - though it may still be painful to roll back his previous demand.

If Abbas yields on the issue, it may have been in exchange for a goodwill gesture from Israel - such as amnesty for veteran PLO fighters held in its jails for decades. Israel gave no signs that such prisoner releases were in the offing, let alone any gestures on settlements.

PRECEDENCE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is ready to resume peacemaking immediately and "without preconditions" - though his country has long insisted it would keep swathes of West Bank settlements under any eventual peace accord.

Most world powers deem the settlements illegal and the EU announced a plan on Tuesday to bar financial assistance to Israeli organizations operating in the occupied territories.

An Israeli official said Netanyahu "attacked" the plan on Wednesday in conversations with European leaders where he argued that other "burning issues" like the Syrian civil war and disputed Iranian nuclear program should take precedence.

Netanyahu told Kerry the EU's anti-settlements move "hurt efforts to renew the diplomatic process" with the Palestinians, an Israeli official said. Israel granted initial approval for new homes in Modiin Ilit, a West Bank settlement near Jerusalem and part of the territorial blocs it wants to annex eventually.

Kerry, on his sixth Middle East mission, was upbeat.

"We have been able to narrow these gaps very significantly," he told reporters on Wednesday. "And so we continue to get closer and I continue to remain hopeful that the sides can soon be able to come and sit at the same table."

Kerry held out the prospect of the rewards Israel could reap in a deal leading to the creation of a Palestinian state on land seized in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestine was seen as the springboard for a broader regional peace mooted by the Arab League in 2002 - but which Israel rejected at the time.

The Arab League plan offered full recognition of Israel if it gave up all land it had occupied since 1967 and agreed to a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.

In a concession to Israel three months ago, Qatar raised the possibility of land swaps in setting future Israeli-Palestinian borders rather than insisting on a return to the 1967 lines. Tzipi Livni, the Israeli cabinet minister responsible for efforts to restart Palestinian talks, at the time called Qatar's move "good news that should be welcomed".

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Amman and Noah Browning in Cairo; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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Comments (24)
VultureTX wrote:
So the standard diplomatic signal from Israel that they will not consider a proposal by SecSTate Kerry is to announce more settlement housing every time he tries.

/great job for Kerry, when he is not wasting time with Abbas, he gets to hang out on his yacht. Meanwhile State Dept is accomplishing nothing the whole world over. And this is scheduled to continue till elections in Nov 2014? talk about running out the clock

Jul 17, 2013 11:25am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Eric.Klein wrote:
After the EU declared no funding for projects in the disputed territories there is very little that Kerry can offer Abbas as incentive to drop his show stopping preconditions.

What can the US or the PA offer Israel to return to the table with the ever growing list of demands that Abbas keeps adding?

Last time he got a 10 month building freeze and waited until month 9 to return to the negotiation table, but only to discuss extending the freeze. Prior to that Israel always gave gestures to the PA, who took them and then walked out on one pretense or another.

Jul 17, 2013 11:44am EDT  --  Report as abuse
tallyhoFl wrote:
When will the United States stop cow-towing to the disregard for
peace by Israel? The US gives support to Israel and they just
thumb their noses at them and the world for their own desires.

Jul 17, 2013 11:45am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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