Israeli, Palestinian negotiators quietly meet (AP) Associated Press) MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH RAMALLAH 06/10/12 11:41 am ET)
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RAMALLAH, West Bank – Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been
meeting quietly in recent weeks in hopes of ending a three-year
standstill in peace efforts, both sides confirmed Sunday.
Officials acknowledged the agenda of the recent talks has been
modest, and stressed there is no breakthrough in sight. Nonetheless,
the revelations gave a small sign of hope that a formula can be found
to restart formal negotiations addressing core issues.
Peace talks broke down in December 2008, and have remained frozen
ever since. The Palestinians say they will not resume negotiations
until Israel halts settlement construction in the West Bank and east
Jerusalem, occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians for a future
state. The Palestinians also want Israel to accept its pre-1967
boundaries, before it captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as
the basis of a final border. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu says talks should restart without preconditions.
Palestinian officials said their chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and
Netanyahu´s envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, have been meeting on a regular
basis in hopes of finding a formula for restarting talks. They said
they have not eased their demands, but were open to scheduling a
meeting between Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The two men have not met since a short-lived attempt to relaunch
negotiations in late 2010.
The Palestinian officials said Abbas is seeking a goodwill gesture
from Israel, such as a "significant release" of Palestinian prisoners
held by Israel. They said Abbas, who is locked in a power struggle
with the Islamic Hamas movement, feels he needs a concrete
accomplishment from the meetings or risk facing ridicule at home.
Israel is holding about 4,000 Palestinian prisoners, and Abbas is
seeking the release of several hundred Palestinians, including people
who were arrested before a 1993 interim peace accord, those with
significant health problems, and prominent political figures.
An Israeli official confirmed there have been "ongoing contacts at
different levels." He refused to elaborate, but said Israel is always
ready to consider goodwill gestures. He cited Israeli concessions
that ended hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners last month, and the
recent return of the remains of dozens of dead Palestinian militants
to their families.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were
discussing a sensitive diplomatic issue.
Negotiators Erekat and Molcho also held a series of meetings earlier
this year under Jordanian auspices. But the dialogue failed to
produce any breakthroughs because of disagreements over the
The Palestinians view settlement construction as a sign of bad faith
and say there is no point in talking as long as Israel builds homes
for its citizens on occupied lands. More than 500,000 Israelis now
live in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Netanyahu, leader of the hawkish Likud Party, has traditionally been
a strong supporter of the settlers. But in recent months, he has
shown signs of moderation, warning that Israel´s continued control
over millions of Palestinians is unsustainable and would jeopardize
the state´s future as a democracy with a Jewish majority.
Last month, Netanyahu brought the main opposition party Kadima into
his government, giving him a coalition that holds 94 of parliament´s
120 seats. The supermajority has reduced Netanyahu´s reliance on
hardliners in the previous coalition and raised speculation that he
may be planning more significant concessions to the Palestinians.
___Josef Federman contributed from Jerusalem. (© 2012 The Associated
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