x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

To resume talks, Abbas soliticits US views on Palestinian borders

The Palestinian leader ended the most recent 2008 direct negotiations because he was unwilling to compromise on Jerusalem.

JERUSALEM // Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants the United States to spell out its views on the borders of a Palestinian state before resuming direct negotiations with Israel, an adviser said Wednesday, raising a condition that Israel is unlikely to accept. President Barack Obama's envoy, George Mitchell, has been mediating low-key indirect talks for weeks, but no progress has been reported. Israel and the US believe direct negotiations should resume, but the Palestinians are reluctant.

Talks ended in late 2008 without agreement on an Israeli proposal for a Palestinian state that would comprise Gaza, about 95 percent of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem, with exchanges of land to make up the difference and a corridor through Israel linking the two territories. Israel also agreed to take in some refugees, but not the millions Palestinians count. Detailing the offer, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has said publicly on at least two occasions that Mr Abbas turned it down because he was not willing to compromise over Jerusalem. Both sides claim a key holy site in the Old City. Mr Abbas has insisted that the negotiations must resume with the Israeli offer back on the table, but the current leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has withdrawn it. Mr Netanyahu has agreed to the principle of a Palestinian state but refuses to detail his ideas about key issues such as borders before direct negotiations resume. Mr Abbas is in a precarious political position, ruling only the West Bank after the Islamic militant group Hamas overran Gaza three years ago, while facing Hamas challenges and internal party squabbles in the West Bank. He was forced to cancel local elections set for this month because of the turmoil. His weakness limits his ability to compromise in peace negotiations. Likewise, Mr Netanyahu heads a hard-line ruling coalition that would not endorse the concessions made by the previous government. Against that backdrop, Mr Obama sought to reassure both leaders in separate meetings this month. Mr Abbas said Mitchell outlined Mr Obama's views about the negotiations last week. Mr Abbas was quoted as saying the US president was vague on what constituted Palestinian territory. "We expect much pressure and hard days, but we will not go to negotiations like blind people," Mr Abbas was quoted as telling Fatah leaders in a closed-door meeting Tuesday night. * Associated Press