London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Saeb Erekat, head of the PLO’s Negotiations Department, has stated that the key to direct negotiations is with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat in which he responded to Israeli leaks after US President Barack Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu at the White House to the effect that direct negotiations might start within weeks, Erekat said: “We do not object to moving to direct negotiations if Israel agrees to negotiate from where these stopped under the government of (former prime minister) Ehud Olmert…, and if it stops the settlement activity, including natural growth, in the West Bank and Jerusalem and we receive a positive Israeli response to the security and borders issues.” He added: “But for Netanyahu to go to Washington and talk about the resumption of settlement activity, the building of walls, and the imposition of facts on the ground and then want Abu-Mazin (President Mahmud Abbas) to come and negotiate with him, then this will not happen.”
On his part, Abu-Mazin, who is visiting Ethiopia at present during an African tour, said “we are ready for taking part in direct negotiations if we receive signs from the Israelis about two issues: The borders and security.”
Obama expressed a desire for the resumption of direct negotiations before the end of September, the time frame for the freeze of settlement activity. To forestall any Palestinian step in that direction, the Hamas movement considered the return to negotiations with Israel “a big crime against the Palestinians.” One of its leaders, Salah al-Bardawil, said “entering into any direct or indirect negotiations is tantamount to providing cover for Israel’s crimes and a direct participation in them.”
On the other hand, Obama warned that any attempt to accuse Israel because of its nuclear program might impede the organization of an international conference on a nuclear-free Middle East which is scheduled for 2012. The warning followed his talks with Netanyahu and included assurances about Israel’s ambiguous policy on nuclear strategy.