Palestinian party toughens line on Israel talks

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Associated Press

Posted on June 19, 2013 at 9:02 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 19 at 9:07 AM

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinian president and his Fatah movement on Wednesday signaled a tough line on talks with Israel, casting new doubt on U.S. efforts to revive long-stalled negotiations.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected in the region next week, his fifth attempt this year to bridge wide gaps between the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the ground rules for talks.

Abbas has said he won't negotiate unless Israel stops building in settlements on war-won lands or accepts its 1967 lines — before the capture of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in a Mideast war that year — as a starting point for border talks. The Palestinians claim all three areas for their future state.

Netanyahu has rejected the Palestinian demands, saying there should be no pre-conditions — though his predecessor accepted the pre-1967 lines as a starting point, and the international community views the settlements as illegal or illegitimate.

Abbas briefed Fatah leaders on Wednesday. In a statement after the meeting, Abbas adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh said Fatah supports Abbas in his positions and "affirmed its rejection of the pressures on Abbas and the leadership," an apparent reference to the Kerry mission.

Both Abbas and Netanyahu are waiting for Kerry to present the proposed U.S. terms for renewing talks. It's not clear what they are and if Kerry will present them during his upcoming visit.

Abu Rdeneh's statement suggested that Kerry failed to persuade Netanyahu to relent on a settlement freeze or accept the pre-1967 frontier as a baseline, saying that Abbas is being pressured to return to talks on Israeli terms. The statement also suggested there was no agreement on the release of veteran Palestinian prisoners by Israel — floated in the past as a possible goodwill gesture to bring Abbas to the table.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor called on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table immediately.

"It seems that the Palestinians still insist on reaching the last stage without bothering to go through chapter one, two and the rest," he said. "There are no shortcuts, and the only way to start negotiating is at the beginning, which means just start negotiating. It's as simple as that."

The U.S. State Department has not announced the dates of the Kerry trip. A Jordanian official said Kerry is expected June 27-29 in the region, but insisted on anonymity, saying he was not allowed to disclose information on a visit by a foreign official to reporters.

Earlier Wednesday, international Mideast envoy Tony Blair said Kerry's mission may be the last chance for an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

He said that the "window of opportunity will be open for only a short period of time."

"We must go through it together," he said in a speech in Jerusalem. "If not, the window will close and could close forever. Time is not our friend. This is urgent. This is now. This is the time for statesmen, not politicians."

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was scheduled to hold talks with Abbas later Wednesday, the latest in a series of foreign diplomats trying to persuade Abbas to go to the negotiations.

Abbas aide Nabil Shaath said Abbas told the visitors, including the foreign ministers of New Zealand and Canada, that they should instead appeal to Israel to change its position.

Palestinian officials have said they nonetheless fear being blamed by the international community for a possible failure of Kerry's mission. In Wednesday's meeting, Fatah asked four leading members to devise a plan "to face the Israeli campaign to put the blame on us," Shaath said.

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Associated Press writer Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed.

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