RAMALLAH, (AFP) – Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat was on Thursday heading to the United States to hold talks with top US officials over the crisis in peace talks.
Separately, Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad was also heading for Washington where he was expected to meet Hillary Clinton ahead of a forum at the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at which the secretary of state was to speak about a new strategy for advancing the peace process.
Fayyad, who was expected to arrive some time early on Friday, was also expected to address delegates at the forum, alongside Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who left for Washington overnight.
The forum was to take place just days after Washington admitted defeat in its efforts to secure an Israeli freeze on settlement building — the Palestinians’ condition for resuming direct peace talks.
Erakat was to arrive at around 1900 GMT on Thursday and was expected to hold talks with Clinton as well as with other top officials at the State Department, Palestinian officials said.
His Israeli counterpart, Isaac Molho, is already in Washington, Israeli media reports said, with both men expected to meet with US administration officials to discuss the crisis.
Meanwhile, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Thursday held his ground and insisted he would not talk with Israel unless there was a halt to settlement building during talks in Cairo with Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
“We will not accept negotiations as long as settlements continue,” Abbas told reporters in Cairo.”We have made this clear to the Americans: without a halt to settlements, no negotiations.”
Abbas, who also held talks with Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, is scheduled to hold talks with Washington’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell when he arrives in Ramallah next Monday.
With no chance of a new ban on Israeli settlement building, the direct peace talks have effectively collapsed, with US officials admitting the negotiations are likely to return to the indirect format they took earlier this year.
Direct talks had begun on September 2 after a 20-month hiatus, but only lasted for just over three weeks before running into difficulties.