Abbas briefed on US plan for new freeze 17Nov10 November 18, 2010

Ma’an News Agency -  17 November 2010

RAMALLAH (AFP) — Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas was on Wednesday updated on a US proposal for a fresh ban on Jewish settlement building in a bid to salvage peace talks with Israel.

David Hale, assistant to US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, briefed Abbas on details of the plan at a meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah, the Palestinian political capital, presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

It was the first time the Palestinians had been officially informed of details of the offer, which would grant Israel a package of diplomatic and security pledges in exchange for a fresh 90-day moratorium on new West Bank settlement building.

During Wednesday’s talks, Hales presented a series of ideas and propositions while Abbas in turn requested many clarifications from Washington, Abu Rudeina said.

But the spokesman said Hale had not presented Abbas with a solid proposal as Israel and the United States had yet to finalise terms of the deal.

“For the moment, there is no agreement. But Palestinian-American discussions are continuing and we are still awaiting the official US position on what they have agreed with the Israeli side,” he told AFP.

The US package of offers is aimed at cajoling the Jewish state into imposing a new moratorium, opening the way for a return to the negotiating table.

Direct peace talks began on September 2 but collapsed three weeks later with the expiry of a 10-month Israeli ban on West Bank settlement building. Abbas has since refused to continue talks until a new moratorium is imposed.

Israel is currently mulling the US proposal but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will only put it to a vote in his 15-member security cabinet when the terms and conditions are presented in writing.

Ahead of the Abbas-Hale meeting, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said that for talks to resume Israel would have to stop construction in annexed east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of a future state.

“The Israelis know our position: that the key to the negotiations is in the hands of Mr Netanyahu. We hope today that he will stop settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem so we can resume negotiations immediately,” he told Israel’s army radio.

Washington’s aim is to bring Abbas back to the negotiating table so the two parties can begin discussing borders, commentators say.

Erakat confirmed that should a new 90-day freeze be implemented and peace talks get back on track, the focus would initially be on final-status issues such as borders and security.

“We said we will negotiate beginning with borders and security and that we hope to finalise them whether in three days, or three weeks or three months … and that the settlement freeze will be done throughout,” he said.

Until now, Netanyahu has avoided all talk of borders, an issue of great concern for hardliners within his cabinet.

“The whole fact of the matter is that we want to reach a two-state solution on the 1967 lines,” Erakat said. “Unfortunately, Israel is the only country on earth that is not willing to recognise its (own) borders.”

Israel seized the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six-Day War.

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