Ashton: Israel-Palestinian talks must continue

AFP , Wednesday 25 Jan 2012

EU urge the Palestinian and Israel to continue the informal peace talks and starts a direct negotiation as soon as possible

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Wednesday that informal talks between Israel and the Palestinians must continue and eventually turn into "genuine" negotiations.

"I am a realist about where we are but I am a passionate believer that we need to keep talks going and increase the potential of these talks to become genuine negotiations," she told reporters in Gaza City.

"So we are looking to see what we can do to help, but at the end this is a discussion that needs to take place between the two sides."

Ashton, who arrived on Tuesday for a three-day visit to the region, said the purpose of her trip was to "keep things moving" as a series of informal talks between negotiators from the two sides appeared on the brink of collapse.

"The reason I am here in this region is not a coincidence, it is because I wanted to meet with the Israelis and with (Palestinian) president (Mahmud) Abbas who I met also last week in Berlin," she explained.

Ashton said she had held talks with Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad late on Tuesday "to try to see what we can do to help keep things moving."

The EU's top diplomat was to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday evening before heading to Amman where she was to meet with Abbas on Thursday.

Ahead of their talks, Abbas was on Wednesday meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II with their discussions likely to focus on how to keep the talks going.

Since January 3, negotiators from the two sides have been holding a series of informal face-to-face discussions in Amman in a bid to seek ways of reviving direct peace talks.

There has been little tangible progress, but negotiators were expected to meet for a fifth meeting on Wednesday evening, which Palestinian officials warned would be the "last."

"The last exploratory meeting will be held in Amman between us and the Israeli side and there will be no extension of these meetings after today," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said ahead of the evening discussions.

Thursday marks the deadline set by the Middle East peace Quartet for receiving concrete proposals from both sides on borders and security.

The Palestinians say they have presented their proposals and accuse Israel of not reciprocating.

"We accepted these exploratory meetings at the request of Jordan. They were not required by the Quartet statement, and it was expected that the negotiations would begin after the exploratory meeting and that the two sides would present their visions for a solution," the Palestinian official said.

"We presented what was asked of us, but the Israeli government has not presented its vision of a solution," he added.

Israel says it believes the three-month period during which proposals were to be submitted began with the first round of exploratory talks on January 3, an interpretation rejected by the Palestinians.

The Palestinians say they will not hold direct talks with Israel unless it freezes settlement construction and agrees to base any future talks on the lines which existed before the 1967 Six-Day War.

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