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Palestinians set out basis for talks with Israel

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian political leaders said Wednesday any resumption of peace talks with Israel would require the Jewish state to commit to withdraw from land occupied in 1967 and freeze all settlement activity.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) issued a statement in the West Bank city of Ramallah after new U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in his first full day in office Wednesday.

Obama telephoned to “communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term,” a spokesman said.

The PLO Executive Committee said it was demanding Israel commit to a comprehensive freezing of all settlement activity in and around Arab East Jerusalem and in the occupied West Bank and a commitment to give up its hold on all occupied land captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

“The Palestinian leadership are not ready to return to political negotiations with Israel unless there is a new basis for talks,” the PLO said, without elaborating.

It said it wanted to conduct talks on the basis of the Arab peace initiative of 2002 which offers Israel peace and normal relations with all Arab countries in return for withdrawal from all territory captured in the 1967 war.

Successive Israeli governments have either ignored or rejected the offer, which would require Israel to dismantle settlements which house hundreds of thousands of Jews.

The administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush launched the latest peace drive at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland in 2007 with the hope of shepherding Israel and the Palestinians towards a peace deal before Bush left office.

But Israel’s failure to halt Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank, divisions among Palestinians and political instability in Israel thwarted any prospect of meeting that deadline.

The divisions were brought even more starkly to light following Israel’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip against Abbas’s Hamas rivals in which some 1,300 Palestinians were killed.

Talks are also most unlikely to resume any time before a new Israeli government is formed after a general election set for February 10.

Reporting by Ali Sawafta, writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Charles Dick