Israel, Palestinians agree to begin indirect talks: report

10:39, March 09, 2010      

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Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to begin U.S.-brokered indirect peace talks, said visiting U.S. special envoy George Mitchell on Monday.

In a statement quoted by Israeli media, the U.S. emissary, fresh from intensive talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders since he arrived on Saturday night, said that he is "pleased" that the two sides have adopted the U.S. proposal for proximity talks, which will see him act as the intermediary shuttling between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"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 said in the statement cited by local daily Ha'aretz.

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

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 along with three Israeli fatalities.

The development also 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.

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 Obama administration has long been trying to push the two sides back to the negotiation table. Yet 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 United States recently proposed that Israel and the Palestinians first conduct indirect talks, which would pave the way to face-to-face negotiations.

Late last year, the Netanyahu administration announced a 10- month partial freeze of settlement construction in the West Bank, which Israel dubbed a goodwill gesture aimed to help resume peace talks. Yet the Palestinians dismissed the move as insincere, and have stressed that no direct talks are possible before Israel completely halts Jewish construction both in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, the Arab-dominated section of the holy city which they claim as the capital of their future state.

In a U.S.-pressured turn, Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo earlier this month voiced support for the Palestinians to conduct indirect talks with Israel for a period of four months, and the Palestinian leadership on Sunday gave President Mahmoud Abbas the green light for participating in the parley. Yet they meanwhile reiterated that Israel must totally freeze settlement expansion before any possible resumption of direct talks.

Source: Xinhua
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