As Palestinian leaders discussed a possible US-brokered resumption of peace talks on Thursday, the Israeli government denied a shift in its conditions that might help end a three-year stalemate.
President Mahmoud Abbas began briefing fellow PLO leaders in Ramallah on his meetings this week with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has extended his stay in the region and appears to be hoping for some movement toward talks. A participant in the Palestinian meeting said participants were leaning toward accepting Kerry's initiative.
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According to Palestinian sources, Kerry's offer was supported by 21 members of the PLO Central Committee, which had agreed to return to negotiations with Israel. Nonetheless, according to other sources, the meeting was stormy, and during it, senior members of the movement demanded clear international guarantees prior to renewal of negotiations.
Palestinian sources told the Maan news agency that according to the Kerry points, negotiations would be Arab-Israeli, and not Palestinian-Israeli, meaning that the issue of the Arab world's recognition of Israel would also be discussed.
Abbas convenes PLO (Photo: EPA)
Abbas convened the senior members of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and his Fatah party in Ramallah, hub of the West Bank and seat of his US-backed self-rule administration.
Mahmoud Al-Aloul, an official with Fatah, sounded a pessimistic note to reporters after initial consultations. "With the current formula, matters are not encouraging. But no decision has been made," he said.
Aloul did not elaborate but appeared to be alluding to reports Kerry's formula lacked any mention of stopping settlement construction and that they would agree to Kerry saying they would recognize Israel as Jewish state.
The Palestinians have refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state out of concern it might undermine their demands for a "right of return" and the rights of Israel's Arab minority.
Abbas, whose peace strategy is routinely censured by his Palestinian Islamist rivals ruling the Gaza Strip, has in the past sought Arab League support to engage Israel.
It was not clear whether Wednesday's endorsement would give him enough political cover to resume direct talks.
"We are expecting to hear from the president the ideas presented by Kerry," senior PLO official Wasel Abu Yousef told Reuters before Thursday's meetings began. "There will be a discussion on these ideas, and everyone will say what he thinks about this.
"The conclusion will be by a general consensus."
Palestinians familiar with Abbas's thinking speculated he might now forgo the demand for a settlement moratorium given a recent slowdown in housing starts issued by Israel's government, though it may still be painful to roll back his previous demand.
If Abbas yields on the issue, it may be in exchange for a goodwill gesture from Israel such as amnesty for around 100 veteran PLO fighters long held in its jails.
Kerry has given no detail on where he believes the two sides might give ground, though he said after meeting Abbas in Jordan on Wednesday that differences had narrowed "very significantly".
A US State Department official said there were currently no plans to announce a resumption of Israeli, Palestinian talks. "There are currently no plans for an announcement for the resumption of negotiations," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Amman, where Kerry is on his sixth visit to the region to try to revive peace talks.
In a press conference in Washington, State Deparment Deputy Spokesperson Mary Harp said that the situation is still "very fluid."
"But the secretary is there because he believes progress can be made. And we're on the ground, again, taking it hour to hour to determine when they'll leave, what further meetings might be necessary," she added.
During his visit, Kerry has not spelled out his proposals. But his efforts won the notable endorsement of the Arab League, which said they "provide the ground and a suitable environment to start negotiations".
Kerry has highlighted a 2002 offer made by the 22-nation League to make peace with Israel in return for a Palestinian state broadly inside borders that existed before Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.
Shimon Peres, Israel's dovish president, was optimistic about Kerry's mission.
"The latest news I have is that the secretary really made real progress and the chances for an understanding heightened. And this day, tomorrow and another day are very crucial. It's touch and go," Peres told foreign correspondents.
Elior Levy, AP contributed to this report
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