BRUSSELS, (AFP) – Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is very close to agreeing to direct talks with Israel, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said in a letter to foreign ministers seen by AFP on Friday.
Abbas “has requested a few more days for final consultations with Arab partners as well as with the Fatah and PLO executive bodies,” Ashton wrote, and “should be in a position to give a definitive answer by Sunday or early next week.”
Ashton, who speaks for the European Union as a member of the international Quartet seeking to negotiate a permanent, peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alongside the United States, the United Nations and Russia, said direct talks could begin “later in August.”
That would follow a statement from the Quartet “early next week,” she said, one that would “reaffirm” their call on March 19 for Israel to freeze all Jewish settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem.
East Jerusalem is the mainly Arab half of the Holy City that Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and then annexed.
The Palestinians and Israelis have not held direct negotiations since Israel’s war on Hamas-ruled Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, but since May have engaged in indirect “proximity” talks with US envoy George Mitchell as mediator.