A senior Palestinian official urged the United States on Monday to make clear that the indirect Mideast peace talks it has proposed will deal with key outstanding issues including borders, settlements and the future status of Jerusalem.
Nasser al-Kidwa, who is being promoted by Fatah insiders as a candidate in the next presidential election, said he and many other Palestinians don't understand what the talks proposed by the Obama administration will lead to, and want assurances that they will be a step toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.
"We want to be sure that this will be something serious and will be a transitional step in the right direction," said al-Kidwa, the former Palestinian UN observer who is currently a member of the central committees of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization. He is also chairman of the foundation that promotes the work of his late uncle, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Arafat, said earlier Monday he needs more details from US mediators before deciding whether to agree to the indirect peace talks. Under the proposal, US Mideast envoy George Mitchell would shuttle between Israel and the Palestinians.
Al-Kidwa suggested in a speech to the International Peace Institute that Mitchell should announce "that he is going to conduct these negotiations on permanent status issues including the status of Jerusalem." He said the former senator might want to say that he will start with borders, and that the US believes the basis should be the 1967 borders "possibly with agreed upon alterations or exchanges."
Mitchell may also want to reiterate the US opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territory the Palestinians envision as their future state, he said.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began in November 2007 under former President George W. Bush broke off in December 2008 with Israel's attack on Gaza, which is ruled by Abbas' rivals in the Islamic militant Hamas movement.
Al-Kidwa strongly backed President Barack Obama for making Mideast peacemaking a top priority of his new administration and calling for a halt to all Israeli settlement activity, even though the US has since backpedaled in the face of strong opposition from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Obviously the administration lost the first round with Mr. Netanyahu," al-Kidwa said. "On the other hand, the Palestinian side upheld their position ... because of real conviction that this is the crux of all problems."
The Palestinians insist on a full freeze of Israeli settlement building before resuming peace talks. They rejected a partial 10-month freeze imposed by Netanyahu in late November as insufficient because it does not include east Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to establish their capital.