Israel has turned down a Palestinian proposal to start direct peace talks on the basis of a statement by major powers that would set their terms of reference, Israeli newspaper reports said on Thursday. According to these reports, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. envoy George Mitchell on Wednesday that he wants face to face talks to start immediately but will not accept any preconditions.
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev had no direct comment on the reports. "The government of Israel has been calling for the immediate start of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians for more than a year now," Regev told Reuters. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to engage in direct talks before Netanyahu agrees to a clear agenda. Abbas indicated that he could go for direct negotiations, if talks were based on a March 19 statement by the "Quartet" of powers involved in Middle East diplomacy -- the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations. This was the proposal Mitchell took to Netanyahu, the reports said.