Israel 'must agree on borders'
A stormy meeting of top Palestinian leaders called to discuss US secretary of state John Kerry's latest peace proposal has ended with a demand for guarantees that Israel agree on the general border of a future Palestinian state.
The demand casts a cloud of uncertainty over months of US mediation efforts because Israel says agreeing to pre-conditions has not led to successful peace talks in the past. Palestinian officials said they wanted guarantees to ensure peace talks would lead to fruition.
Hoping to push Israelis and Palestinians towards talks, US president Barack Obama asked Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to work with Mr Kerry "to resume negotiations with Palestinians as soon as possible", the White House said.
After two separate meetings, Palestinian officials said they decided to send top negotiator Saeb Erekat to meet Mr Kerry "and inform him that Palestinians want guarantees regarding the general border", said Wasel Abu Yussef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee, who was at the meeting. He was referring to Israel's de facto border that separates the Jewish state from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories that Israel conquered in the 1967 Six Day War, alongside the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians claim those territories for their future state, with modifications reached through agreed "land swaps" that would see major Jewish settlement blocks built in the West Bank becoming part of Israel proper, in exchange for territories elsewhere.
Mr Abu Yussef said Mr Erekat would also ask for more clarifications from Mr Kerry on what Israel expects from negotiations. He said Palestinians did not want to reject Mr Kerry's efforts to restart negotiations outright. Another official at the meeting said they felt pressure from Palestinians not to restart negotiations if they could not be seen producing substantive outcomes.
Suggesting Palestinian officials would be open to talks, they deliberately did not bring up their often-repeated demand that Israel stop building in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem before talks could resume. The anonymous Palestinian official said they had decided, so far, not to make the demand this time. He said if Israel agreed on a general border route before negotiations began, it would de-legitimise Jewish settlement building in areas expected to be part of a Palestinian state.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas convened the two meetings with his advisers after a lengthy meeting with Mr Kerry earlier in the week. While Mr Kerry has not publicised details of his plan, the Arab League's decision on Wednesday to endorse his proposal raised speculation that the Palestinians would agree. Mr Abbas traditionally has sought the blessing of his Arab brethren before making any major diplomatic initiative.
US officials played down hopes that negotiations would begin soon. "There are currently no plans for an announcement on the resumption of negotiations," Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for Mr Kerry, said in neighbouring Jordan. An Israeli cabinet minister said no deal was imminent.
A US official said Mr Kerry would consult Israeli and Palestinian leaders before ending his visit to the Middle East and returning to the United States, but made no mention of an announcement of new negotiations.