Israel,Palestinians cautious on peace talk invite

A Middle East treaty creating a Palestinian state at peace with Israel can be completed in one year of negotiations,said major powers.

Written by Agencies | Washington | Published:August 20, 2010 1:14 pm

A Middle East treaty creating a Palestinian state at peace with Israel can be completed in one year of negotiations,said major powers who were due on Friday to invite both parties to start talks in two weeks.

A diplomatic source in the United States said the Quartet of world powers engaged in Middle East peace-making had agreed on the details of the invitation on Thursday and would issue it formally on Friday.

Israeli and Palestinian officials said they expected to see the statement and U.S. invitation by the end of the day.

We are waiting to see the formulation of the American invitation draft. Our position remains that we don’t want preconditions,an Israeli official said.

A Palestinian official,also speaking on condition of anonymity,said: If the statement meets what we are calling for,we will say yes of course.

The Palestinians were focused on the statement they expect from the Quartet — the United States,European Union,Russia and the United Nations — which would set out terms of reference for the talks. Negotiations would begin with a summit hosted by President Barack Obama on Sept 2.

A draft statement that was being discussed by the partners on Thursday says 12 months should be sufficient. A Quartet statement in June said a deal could be concluded in 24 months.

The Israel government,playing down the role of the Quartet,was focused on the forthcoming U.S. invitation.

In three statements on the Middle East conflict this year,the Quartet said Israel should stop building settlements in the West Bank and agree to a Palestinian state within the borders of land it has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel says direct talks should begin with no preconditions. For the Palestinians,however,the Quartet statement constitutes a minimum guarantee of the terms of reference.

The Palestinian official said that if the statement of the Quartet was not satisfactory we will express our demands.

LAUNCH IN SEPTEMBER

Middle East analysts say the peace process which began in the early 1990s long ago established the basic outlines of a deal acceptable to Israel and the Palestinians,and identified crunch issues remaining to be thrashed out.

In one year from now,the Palestinian Authority government intends to have established all the attributes of statehood,raising speculation that it might declare independence should talks fail to make progress on a final status treaty.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,whose Fatah party rules the West Bank,broke off talks with the previous Israeli prime minister in 2008. Contacts were frozen after Israel’s massive offensive in the Gaza Strip in that same year against Hamas.

Contacts resumed in May this year after a hiatus of 19 months in the form of proximity talks via Obama’s envoy George Mitchell,who has been working for weeks to get Abbas to agree to upgrade the process by resuming direct negotiation.

The Islamist group Hamas,which controls Gaza and refuses to renounce violence against Israel,said the proposed peace talks would do nothing to help the Palestinian cause.

There is no use at all in resuming the negotiations,Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said in Gaza after Friday prayers.

Launching the talks early in September is seen as crucial.

Obama wants them started well before Sept. 26,when Israel’s 10-month moratorium on Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank is due to end. Full-scale return to settlement construction could sink the talks for good.

The draft statement as described by diplomatic sources on Thursday reaffirms the Quartet’s full commitment to its previous statements. But it does not explicitly repeat the demand for a settlement freeze — wording which would almost certainly be rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s centre-right coalition.

Abbas needs the endorsement of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the support of Arab states to engage Netanyahu in direct talks.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has warned the Israelis not to offer Abbas some Mickey Mouse state.

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