Abbas says Palestinians hope to restart peace talks with Israel this year 15Mar13 March 15, 2013

Haaretz    -     14 March 2013

2770436367Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday he hoped peace talks with Israel would restart this year, although qualified that the chances seemed slim.

Abbas made his comments during a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said Russia would do all it could to promote peace in the region.

“We … hope that substantive peace talks will start this year, although the hopes are probably not very high,” Abbas said through an interpreter at talks at a state residence outside Moscow.

“We hope that in the end we will reach a political solution based on the two-state principle,” he said.

Peace talks broke down in 2010 over Palestinian objections to Israel expanding settlements on occupied land the Palestinians want for a state. Israel has called for a resumption of the talks without preconditions.

Russia, a member of the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators along with the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, has criticized the Israeli settlement expansion.

Putin has also tried to balance relations with Arabs including the Palestinians, dating back to the Soviet era, with improved ties to Israel during his 13 years in power.

Abbas landed in Moscow on Thursday for his first meeting with Putin since the Palestinians won observer status in the United Nations General Assembly last year.

The two leaders were set to discuss cooperation between the PA and during their meeting, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Palestinian sources say the timing of the trip – a few days before the arrival of United States President Barack Obama in Israel – is not coincidental and may signal a lack of Palestinian interest in the American president’s visit. The Palestinians were informed Wednesday that Obama will be visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, rather than just Ramallah, as previously planned.

Palestinian expectations were lowered when American officials told the Palestinian teams planning Obama’s visit the president was mainly coming to the region to listen, a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz.

At the same time, the Palestinians are hoping to make progress on the issue of Palestinian prisoners. Palestinian officials are cautiously optimistic Obama’s visit will coincide with the release of a small number of veteran prisoners – male and female – who were convicted prior to the Oslo Accords and are on hunger strike, said a senior Palestinian official. But the Palestinians noted Israel has yet to agree to a prisoner release.

Discussions being held by Palestinian leaders suggest they believe Obama’s visit will influence the economic situation of the PA, which is on the verge of bankruptcy, according to the same source.

Meanwhile, three young Palestinians have launched a campaign ahead of the U.S. president’s visit to highlight the difficulties of life under Israeli occupation using billboards in Ramallah and Bethlehem.

The signs show a picture of Obama with slogans like, “President Obama, there’s no need to bring your smart phone, because in Palestine it is forbidden to use 3G mobile phones.” Another sign suggests the president move up his visit to the West Bank by two hours in anticipation of being delayed at the Qalandiyah checkpoint – a reference to the crowded conditions and the long delays Palestinians suffer there.

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