Obama urges Netanyahu to resume negotiations
US president urges Netanyahu to restart peace talks as soon as possible as Kerry prepares to end Mideast visit. Palestinians decide to putt off decision on resumption of talks, send Erekat to ask Kerry for clarifications on Israeli stance. Palestinian source says if agreement on borders is reached, settlements issue will not be as pressing
US President Barack Obama spoke by telephone on Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and urged him to resume peace talks with Palestinians, the White House said in a statement.
The telephone call was part of regular consultations between the two leaders, the White House said, but came as US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the region to try to help restart talks that stalled in 2010.
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"The President encouraged Prime Minister Netanyahu to continue to work with Secretary Kerry to resume negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible," the White House said, noting the leaders also talked about security issues in Egypt, Iran and Syria.
A US official said Kerry would consult with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Friday before ending his visit to the Middle East and returning to the United States but made no mention of an announcement of new negotiations.
Since US Secretary of State John Kerry's arrival at the region, the implementation of US-brokered resumption of talks has received both support and objection by Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Palestinians put off a decision on Thursday on whether to resume peace talks, with a senior official saying Israel needed to meet their terms before negotiations could resume.
According to AP, a stormy, high-level meeting of senior Palestinian leaders called to discuss Kerry's proposal ended with a decision early Friday to demand guarantees that Israel agree on the general border of a future Palestinian state, officials said.
After two separate meetings, Palestinian officials said they decided to send top negotiator Saeb Erekat to meet with Kerry "and inform him that Palestinians want guarantees regarding the general border," said Wasel Abu Yussef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, who was in the meeting.
Abu Yussef said Erekat would also ask for more clarifications from Kerry on what Israel expects from negotiations.
A Palestinian source told Ynet Thursday that during the PLO's executive committee meeting it was decided that the issue of borders will be first among the issues discussed in the impending talks with Israel.
PLO meeting in Ramallah (Photo: EPA)
"The decision was to follow the head, not the heart. And the head says the most important thing isn't whether or not settlement construction will be frozen and where, and not which prisoners will be released or how many – these are issues that can be solved later. For the Palestinians, the most important thing is that negotiations will be held on the basis of the 1967 line. If that is agreed – then the significance of building in the settlements will be lessened and insubstantial," the source said.
The source added that this will be the response sent to the US secretary of state.
Israeli officials were also deliberating, trying to predict the direction US Secretary of State John Kerry's initiative will take.
A senior Israeli official told Ynet, "Meanwhile the Palestinians are dodging, and the pressures they are under will continue overnight. Eventually, the pressure will bear fruit, at least in terms of promoting talks."
Defense establishment officials insisted that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is not interested in talks. "He doesn’t really want a negotiation," a governmental official stated. "He doesn’t want to make any decisions."
Sources in Jerusalem stress that "Israel will not consent to preconditions – not on '67 lines, not on official freezing of construction (of settlements in the West Bank) and not on releasing terrorists."
An Israeli official said, "We are trying to understand where all this is going. Things are very sensitive and there is an effort to finally reach some understandings. The next few hours are critical.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stressed that the US was focused "on taking steps to move both parties back to the negotiating table. That's what Secretary Kerry is engaged in now. And it is our view that settlement activity is an obstacle to progress. We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, and we also oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts, which would undermine peace efforts and would contradict Israeli commitments and obligations."
Elior Levy, Attila Somfalvi, AP and Reuters contributed to this report
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