Israel, Palestinians nod to indirect talks

08:48, March 09, 2010      

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by Geng Xuepeng, Deng Yushan

The Israelis and Palestinians finally agreed to put themselves back into an unwieldy process to end the decades-old Middle East feud after a 15-month hiatus.

The two sides have agreed to begin indirect talks brokered by the United States, U.S. special envoy George Mitchell announced Monday evening.

The development marked the first time for the two Middle East neighbors to conduct peace negotiations since U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office in early 2009.


The U.S. envoy said in a statement that he is "pleased" that the two sides have adopted the U.S. proposal for proximity talks.

"We've begun to discuss the structure and scope of these talks and I will return to the region next week to continue our discussions," Mitchell, in his latest tour to the Middle East, said in the statement.

While expressing hope that the indirect parley would lead to direct negotiations between the two Middle East foes, he urged all parties concerned "to refrain from any statements or actions which may inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of these talks."

Regarding the proximity talks, which might see Mitchell act as the intermediary shuttling between Israel and the Palestinian territories, Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the PLO's executive committee, said on Sunday that the talks would be restricted by a time limit of four months and focus on the borders and security concerns.

Mitchell announced the start of the proximity talks shortly after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel for a four- day visit to the Jewish state and the Palestinian territories. Biden is scheduled to meet with top Israeli and Palestinian officials before he leaves for Jordan on Thursday.

The commencement of indirect talks ended a 15-month deadlock since negotiations broke down when the Jewish state launched a destructive military offensive against the Gaza Strip in late 2008, which left about 1,400 Palestinians dead in the coastal enclave.

The Obama administration has long been trying to push the two sides back to the negotiation table. Yet gaping gaps on the issues of settlements and East Jerusalem blocked their return to the peace track, and even once strained the U.S.-Israeli ties.

As a transitional measure, the U.S. recently proposed that Israel and the Palestinians first conduct indirect talks, which would pave the way to face-to-face negotiations. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Sunday gave green light to the indirect negotiations, after Arab League's nod to the U.S. proposal.

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