Saturday, July 24, 2010

World leaders urge Abbas to renew direct talks with Israel

(Haaretz).The U.S. administration and a string of international leaders did their best this weekend to persuade Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to move from indirect to direct talks with Israel. One highly placed Jerusalem figure said the Mideast Quartet had decided last week on the pressure play.

Over the weekend, Abbas heard in turn from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Each called on Abbas to announce this Thursday, at the Arab League foreign ministers' summit in Cairo, that he is ready to move to direct talks. All three leaders promised to support him and to head off any Israeli foot-dragging during the talks.

Abbas heard the same last Thursday from Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who delivered from Jerusalem the message that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was serious about negotiations with the Palestinians. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in a press conference over the weekend, also said that direct talks should start as soon as possible.

In addition to pressing Abbas, Washington took an indirect approach to get Egypt and Jordan to recruit the support of fellow Arab League members for a resolution in favor of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. U.S. President Barack Obama called Jordan's King Abdullah II on Friday to make his arguement, while on Thursday Vice President Joe Biden held a similar conversation with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

It is believed that Abbas is standing up to the pressure, and that the Palestinians have not eased their conditions for moving to direct talks: an end to all construction in the settlements, including in East Jerusalem; and Israel's agreement to a future Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with some territorial exchanges.

The Jerusalem source said the Quartet - comprised of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - decided on the coordinated campaign of persuasion after representatives met in Jerusalem last week.

The pressure is expected to increase until Thursday's Cairo summit, where Abbas will present the Palestinian Authority's position on the talks with Israel and seek the Arab League's support for its position.

The U.S. administration and the other Quartet members are hoping that, as a result of their gambit, Abbas will propose renewing direct negotiations with Israel. The assumption is that the Arab League will support whatever decision Abbas makes.