Palestinian official denies plans to meet Israelis

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 13, 2011 10:14 AM
Palestinian official denies plans to meet Israelis

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A senior Palestinian official denied Thursday that Palestinian and Israeli delegates would soon meet in Jordan to discuss restarting peace talks, reiterating demands that Israel stop building settlements before negotiations can resume.

Washington and its allies are scrambling to resurrect Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to defuse a diplomatic crisis after President Mahmoud Abbas submitted a request last month for Palestine to be recognized as a U.N. member state.

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said Tuesday Washington was hopeful the Israelis and Palestinians would hold a preliminary meeting in Jordan on October 23.

But Saeb Erekat, a veteran Palestinian peace negotiator and close advisor to Abbas, told Voice of Palestine radio that no such meeting was planned.

"It was said that there are meetings and calls for meetings in Jordan between an Israeli and a Palestinian delegation with the Quartet. This talk is not true. We did not receive anything from them," he said.

The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators comprises the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. The Quartet issued a statement on September 23 calling on the sides to hold a preliminary meeting within a month that would lead to full peace talks.

Erekat said: "My view is that anyone who tries to get around the point that Israel must halt settlement and accept the '67 borders is only wasting their time," he said.

The Palestinians aim to found their state alongside Israel on territories Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war -- the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to halt the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

He says the Palestinians should have come to the table when he partially froze West Bank building for 10 months between 2009 and 2010, and any talks should come with no preconditions.

Netanyahu told the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton Monday he was willing to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to restart peace talks.

Ashton Sunday announced plans to invite Israeli and Palestinian representatives to meet to discuss resuming negotiations. The last round of talks broke down a year ago over the settlement issue.

Abbas, currently in Paris, is due to meet the U.S. Middle East envoy David Hale later Thursday, Erekat said.

"There will be no negotiations for the sake of negotiations," he said.

The latest international effort to revive the peace talks was triggered by the Palestinians' bid to secure full membership in the United Nations.

The United States and Israel oppose the move, describing it as a unilateral attempt by the Palestinians to bypass the peace process. Washington says Palestinian statehood should be a result of negotiations.

The Palestinians say the peace process that got underway 20 years ago has brought them no closer to independence and instead given Israel time to expand Jewish settlements and undermine the prospects of a viable Palestinian state.

(Writing by Tom Perry)