RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – Reports of progress in the Middle East peace talks amount to little more than political spin ahead of a US visit by the Israeli premier, a Palestinian official said on Sunday.
“We don’t know what they are talking about when they say progress,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“We are not aware of any progress and we have not been informed of any progress. They are trying to create a positive atmosphere to help make (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s visit to the US successful,” he charged.
A senior White House official on Friday said US-brokered indirect talks had “made progress and the gaps (between the two sides) have been narrowed,” in comments which surprised the Palestinians.
His comments were made just days before Netanyahu holds talks with US President Barack Obama, with the two likely to discuss a move from indirect talks to direct Middle East negotiations.
The official said Washington was “pushing hard” for a shift to direct talks — a move which Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has insisted will only take place if there is progress on the key issues of borders and security.
“As soon as there is progress (on borders and security) we’ll shift to direct talks, but up until now we haven’t received even a single sign that might indicate progress on those issues,” Abbas said last week in remarks published by several Israeli newspapers.
The indirect talks, which began on May 9, are regarded as a first step towards renewing direct negotiations which collapsed in December 2008 when Israel launched a devastating 22-day offensive on Gaza.
Abbas has reportedly handed US special envoy George Mitchell a document outlining the contours of the Palestinian position on several key issues, the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat reported on Saturday.
According to the paper, which quotes several unnamed Palestinian officials, the proposals lay out terms for an Israeli withdrawal from occupied and annexed east Jerusalem including the Old City but would allow Israel to retain sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.
It also outlines the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with an exchange of territories amounting to 2.3 percent in a proposal based on the discussions at Camp David and Taba in 2000.
Such a deal would allow Israel to keep settlement blocs like Gush Etzion and a strip of land near around Ben Gurion airport. In exchange, the Palestinians would receive an equivalent amount of territory in Israel, near the southern West Bank city of Hebron, the paper said.
Asked to comment on the report, a senior Palestinian source dismissed it out of hand.
“The information is totally false,” he insisted.