After agreeing to indirect talks mediated by the Americans with the Israelis, the Palestinians are hoping to address core issues of border alignments and security during the four-month long parleys.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Saturday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas handed over a letter to George Mitchell, U.S. envoy to West Asia, saying the Palestinian leadership had “agreed to join the proximity talks with Israel”.
The letter appreciated Washington's efforts to end Israeli occupation and promote peace by establishing a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, and with East Jerusalem as its capital.
“The issue of Jerusalem will be negotiated, and during the four-month proximity talks, the two issues of borders and security will also be discussed,” said Mr. Erekat.
He said the talks “will not start from zero,” and would seek to focus on decisions that would need to be quickly implemented on the ground. He said the ball was now firmly in Israel's court, and Tel Aviv's actions would determine the prospects of these talks. “If the price that we will pay for saying yes to [George] Mitchell will be more settlements and more dictations, that's a big question mark about the possibility of continuing,” he said.
While welcoming the Palestinian decision, the Israeli side has thrown in a dampener by signalling that real progress can take place only after direct talks begin. A spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement said: “Israel's position was and remains that the talks ought to be conducted without preconditions and should quickly lead to direct negotiations.”
On its part, the Palestinian group, Hamas, has rejected the talks. The group exhorted the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to “stop selling illusions to the Palestinian people and announce the failure of their gambling on absurd talks”.