Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas was on Tuesday hoping to secure a series of US guarantees before resuming peace talks with Israel, as he met with Washington’s Middle East envoy.
George Mitchell returned to the region on Monday for the first time in months on a mission to salvage peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians a week after Washington admitted that direct negotiations were off the menu.
Mitchell is trying to secure Palestinian agreement to discuss the key issues of the conflict through indirect negotiations with the Israelis.
Ahead of the morning meeting, a senior Palestinian official said Abbas was hoping to get Washington’s answer to a list of demands laid out in a letter handed to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.
“Last week, Erakat delivered a letter to Clinton saying that they want US guarantees and answers before returning to any negotiations, direct or indirect,” the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We are now awaiting the answer to that letter.”
The letter lays out two key requests on which the Palestinians are conditioning their return to any peace talks with Israel.
Firstly, it demands US guarantees that there would be “a complete halt to settlement in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.”
It also calls on the United States to recognise a Palestinian state based on Israel’s borders of before the 1967 Six-Day War in which the Jewish state seized the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
If Washington refuses, the letter asks that the administration of President Barack Obama not take steps to prevent the Palestinians from seeking such recognition from the UN Security Council.
“If there was no agreement on these points and no recognition by the administration of a Palestinian state, then the US administration was requested not to block the Palestinians from going to the Security Council and the General Assembly,” the source said.
“Abbas is waiting for US answers to his request, which he expects Mitchell will have during his meeting today in Ramallah.”
The letter also asks for Washington to reaffirm its commitment to ending Israel’s occupation of the territories seized in 1967 and the establishment of a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state within those borders.
It also demands an outline of the mechanisms of negotiation, the likely duration of the talks and clarification on the role of the United States.
In a bid to keep up US pressure on the two sides, Mitchell arrived on Monday afternoon and held three hours of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has expressed his satisfaction at a return to indirect talks, saying he was pleased the focus had been taken off settlement activity and placed firmly on core issues.
“We’re going to work together to establish a new path to achieve a common goal, which is to get a framework agreement for peace that will ensure both peace and security,” Netanyahu told reporters late on Monday.
Mitchell also made reference to the search for a framework agreement, which would encompass each side’s position on core issues of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“In their direct talks, both sides decided together to pursue a framework agreement that would establish the fundamental compromises on all permanent status issues, and pave the way for a final peace treaty,” he said.
Last week, Washington acknowledged it had failed to secure a new Israeli settlement freeze, effectively signalling the end of direct peace talks and an expected return to the “proximity” talks begun in May and overseen by Mitchell.
Direct talks began on September 2, but stalled three weeks later with the end of an Israeli moratorium on settlement building.
The Palestinians have consistently refused to talk while Israel continues building settlements on land they want for a future state.