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Egyptian FM Abul Gheit (L) with Abbas in Cairo
Photo: AFP
Arab League endorses direct Israel-PA talks
Palestinian President Abbas tells senior Arab officials convening in Cairo he refuses to enter direct peace talks without guarantees for independent state; Qatari FM says League agrees in principle to direct negotiations

Arab officials convening in Cairo began crucial talks with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas on Thursday to decide whether he will begin direct negotiations with Israel amid pressure from the United States.

 

Qatar's foreign minister said the Arab League has agreed in principle to direct Palestinian talks with Israel.

 

In his speech, Abbas told 13 foreign ministers from Arab countries representing the Arab League that he would not agree to direct talks without a guarantee for a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 war borders and an end to all settlement activity.

  

Asked if the league would back direct talks, Hamad ibn Jassem said: "Of course, there is agreement, but agreement over the principles of what will be discussed and the manner of the direct negotiations."

 

It would be up to Abbas to decide whether to hold talks, based on whatever conditions he sees fit, Jassem said.

 

The official Egyptian news agency MENA quoted the Palestinian leader as saying ahead of the meeting, "When I receive the demanded guarantees, which are the acceptance of the 1967 borders and an end to settlements... I will immediately enter negotiations."

 

Egypt said Wednesday it has received US assurances that may help in restarting direct peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel.

 

Abbas facing 'unprecedented pressure'

Abbas also told the Arab League he was facing "pressures I have never faced before in my life from the American administration and the European Union and the secretary general of the United Nations," adding that he would step down if he saw "matters are not going well."

 

The Palestinian president has so far accepted holding only indirect talks with Israel, which has rejected his conditions for face-to-face negotiations.

 

Arab League official Hisham Yussef, who heads Secretary General Amr Mussa's office, told AFP Thursday, "The issue is not US pressure, the issue is what is in the Palestinians' interests."

 

"Their interest from their perspective is clear -- they want to see progress in the proximity talks and we support them," he said.

 

On the eve of the Arab League meeting, Egypt said it had received US assurances that may help in restarting direct peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel.

 

Egyptian presidential spokesman Suleiman Awwad did not disclose details of the US assurances, but said that Obama has committed to exerting efforts toward direct peace talks aimed at creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

 

He said President Hosni Mubarak has received a letter from Obama, followed by calls from Vice President Joe Biden and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, all signaling a US commitment to establish a Palestinian state.

 

"These are all indications which we hope are pursued and yield Arab and international consensus to launch direct peace talks with a time table and clear terms of reference," Awwad said.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is willing to meet Abbas to discuss all the core issues of the decades-old conflict, and has accused the Palestinians of avoiding engaging in direct talks.

 

On Monday Netanyahu told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, "There is an obvious Palestinian attempt to evade direct negotiations. As far as we are concerned, we are ready to start direct negotiations as early as next week."

 

Abbas suspended direct negotiations with Israel after its offensive on the Islamist Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in December 2008 in response to rocket fire.

 

He has demanded that the talks pick up from where he left off with then prime minister Ehud Olmert, a condition rejected by Netanyahu's government.

 

Reuters, AFP, AP, Atilla Somfalvi contributed to the report

 

 

 

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