x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Israelis and Palestinians might meet on Tuesday

PLO official says path to preliminary talks on resuming peace negotiations has been cleared with a US guarantee on pre-1967 borders and Israeli plans to free Palestinian prisoners.

RAMALLAH // Palestinian and Israeli talks to revive the stalled peace process could begin as soon as Tuesday after a key guarantee was offered by the United States, a Palestinian official said yesterday.

Discussions to restart direct negotiations could begin in two days in Washington, the official said, because the Palestinians have received a promise from the administration of the US president, Barack Obama, that the new round of peace talks would be based on the boundaries existing before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

During the conflict, Israel captured the territories wanted for a Palestinian state.

The guarantee, a long-standing Palestinian demand, was made by Washington over the weekend, an official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) said, although he did not provide details.

Now only details of the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails remain be sorted out before the preliminary peace talks can begin, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has made six trips to the region in an attempt to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, announcing earlier this month that both sides had reached a breakthrough in resuming talks after a three-year hiatus.

It was not clear whether Israel had accepted the 1967 lines as a negotiations basis. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, has routinely refused this demand, arguing that the 1967 boundaries are "indefensible".

Moreover, Mr Netanyahu has refused to stop constructing settlements, which Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has made a condition for returning to negotiations.

Right-wing politicians in Mr Netanyahu's coalition government have threatened to scuttle the government if he agreed to negotiate on the 1967 lines.

Speaking in the West Bank city of Jericho, a senior Israeli cabinet minister, Silvan Shalom, said that a number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would be released as part as a good will gesture to resume direct negotiations.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported yesterday that Israeli officials would release in stages about 100 Palestinian prisoners, although it did not provide concrete details.

Mr Netanyahu's cabinet is expected to endorse this week a draft bill that would put any peace treaty with the Palestinians to a national referendum. That move is seen as a concession to the Israeli premier's right-wing allies, who are sceptical of a Palestinian state, which is hoped to be built on the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.