Palestinians: Indirect talks have begun
Chief Palestinian negotiator Erekat says following third meeting between Palestinian President Abbas and US special envoy Mitchell, 'I can officially declare today that the proximity talks have begun'. Earlier, Erekat says talks will be renewed from place they left off during Olmert government
"I can officially declare today that the proximity talks have begun," Chief Palestinian negotiator Erekat says following third meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and US special envoy Mitchell. Earlier, Erekat says talks will be renewed from place they left off during Olmert government.
According to Erekat, Abbas himself will head the Palestinian negotiation team.
The Palestinian negotiator said that all of the permanent agreement issues would be put on the negotiation table.
Palestinian sources failed to mention whether the Americans accepted the Palestinian demand on halting all settlement construction and on the timetable and foundations of the negotiations, as well as whether the talks would be resumed from the point they left off.
Erekat himself said earlier Sunday that the talks would be renewed from the point they left off in 2008 during the Olmert government. He stated that the parties will move on to direct talks only in the case of a settlement construction freeze.
Mitchell and Abbas in Ramallah (Photo: AFP)
A Palestinian source told Ynet, "The Americans promised to handle firmly any attempt by Netanyahu to thwart the negotiations."
According to Palestinian sources, part of the talks held between the Americans and Palestinians recently were about ways to deal with expected attempts by the Netanyahu government to thwart the proximity talks before the parties move on to direct negotiations.
Palestinian sources told Ynet that the Palestinians demanded guarantees from envoy Mitchell that Israeli would not issue any declarations which would harm the negotiations.
"The Americans promised that there would be no construction in the settlements during the negotiations, and that any Israeli attempt to thwart the talks would meet a strong and firm American stand. It appears the Americans are determined not to let these talks fail and slip away as they have in the past," one of the sources said.
The talks were expected to be held in Jerusalem and Ramallah, but will begin in the United States without any direct contact between the parties.
Netanyahu: Peace cannot be made from afar
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Palestinian Authority's decision to launch proximity talks with Israel during Sunday's cabinet meeting. "The talks will be held without preconditions, as we have insisted over the past year, but they must lead to direct talks as soon as possible," he said.
"As time goes by, we cannot reach decisions and agreements on critical things like security and our and their interests without sitting in one room," he added. "Peace cannot be made from afar."
Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor) said, "As far as I am concerned, the talks about the core issues can begin now. We are starting the talks with low expectations, even very low, and thus there may be surprises. We must dare and leap forward. It's crucial in order to move on to direct talks. There is no doubt that it will be very difficult, as every issue we will touch on is explosive," he said.
Minister for Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman (Labor) added that "it's time to address the core issues, courageously. The talks must stop focusing on one or another outpost or one or another building, and we must go straight to the main big problems. We are in such a big international isolation, and if we fail to move forward to a solution of two states for two people, the isolation will weaken us significantly."
Ronen Medzini and The Associated Press contributed to this report