Clinton to meet with Palestinians and Israeli leaders

AFP, Friday 10 Dec 2010

In an effort to break the deadlock in the Mideast talks, Clinton will meet on Friday with chief Palestinian negotiator Erekat, PM Fayyad and Israel Defence Minister Barak


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton steps up her efforts Friday to break the deadlock in Middle East peace talks following a failed US push for an Israeli settlement freeze.

The top US diplomat was scheduled to meet in Washington on Friday with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, US officials said.

These talks follow sessions she had with Israel's chief peace negotiator Yitzhak Molcho from whom she sought "a perspective on the Israeli side of how to move forward," her spokesman Philip Crowley said, without elaborating.

Crowley said Clinton had spoken twice over the telephone on Wednesday with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to encourage him to send Erekat to Washington.

The burst of talks will be capped by an evening speech Clinton will give to the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, outlining new ideas to rescue the Obama administration's struggling diplomatic efforts in the region.

Peace talks were thrown into disarray on Tuesday when the United States conceded it had failed in its weeks-long efforts to persuade Israel to renew a freeze on illegal settlement building in the West Bank.

President Barack Obama had presided over the relaunch of direct talks in Washington in September, only to see them stall within weeks when a settlement moratorium expired and the Palestinians refused, under the latter circumstances, to come back to the table.

Although US officials said there was no immediate prospect of direct talks, they said such talks were needed to reach agreement on the core issues, something they said could still be achieved by the original August deadline.

The core issues are Israel's security, the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of the holy city of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital.

Crowley said Wednesday that Washington still considered settlements in occupied Palestinian land to be illegal, but would now seek means other than a settlement freeze to restart peace talks.

Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, told AFP he held talks on Thursday with US Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell, his assistant David Hale and with Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman over the failed US attempt to secure a new settlement freeze.

In the meeting, Erekat reiterated that the Palestinians would not negotiate without a complete cessation of all settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially in East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have refused to return to peace talks without a new settlement freeze. They want it not only on the West Bank, but also in East Jerusalem, which they claim as the capital of a future state.

Following talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Abbas renewed the Palestinian conditions for peace talks.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "emphasised that it was vital to break the current diplomatic stalemate and resume negotiations," his spokesman said in a statement.

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