U.S. pressures Abbas to engage in direct talks now
U.S President Barack Obama has warned his Palestinian counterpart to engage in direct talks with Israel if he wants Washington's support in establishing a Palestinian state.
In a 36-page memo sent to Palestinian officials, a senior U.S. envoy informs Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that resisting direct negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be "political suicide."
Abbas earlier said that until Netanyahu accepts the idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and stops settlement building in the region, he would not re-engage in talks. For his part, Netanyahu has said he will not surrender East Jerusalem or extend a ten-month freeze on housing construction beyond September. He also said that while the Palestinian Authority continued to "sabotage" any efforts at direct peace talks, he had reached an "understanding" with the Americans about Israel's security interests.
"That is, Israel is in a special position and different from other countries. It is clear to all that Israel must be able to defend itself against the combination of threats it faces," Netanyahu said.
A coalition of Arab foreign ministers will convene in Cairo on Thursday to determine whether they support direct talks for Palestine, or whether they want the United States to continue its role as middleman. U.S envoy George Mitchell has been meeting individually with Abbas and Netanyahu since early May; the separate negotiations were expected to last until September.
According to the memo, Mitchell told Abbas last week that if he engages in face-to-face negotiations with Netanyahu, Washington will push for a viable Palestinian state; if not, Obama won't be able to offer much help. The document, which recounts recent diplomatic efforts in the region, also tells Abbas that he shouldn't wait for Netanyahu to be replaced by another Israeli leader anytime soon.
Despite being weary of direct peace talks, Abbas did tell Jordan's King Abdullah II on Monday that "We are ready for negotiations. Earlier Israeli governments have negotiated more than once, why do not we want the negotiations? We do not shy away from them."
U.S. State Department officials would not specifically comment on the content of the memo, but did tell reporters that "this indeed illustrates where we are."
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, on the other hand, refuted the accuracy of some of the memo's points. While the U.S. did tell Abbas that Obama's help was conditional on direct talks, he said Abbas was not warned about the consequences of not moving to direct peace talks, or about the longevity of Netanyahu's leadership.
Direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were halted following Israel's offensive in Gaza in December 2008.