Middle East talks 'set to begin'

US says peace process will get back on track with "indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks".

    Clinton urged both sides to resume direct negotiations on a peace deal [Reuters]

    But Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, told Al Jazeera that the beginning of the talks was not yet a done deal.

    "We are making every possible effort to begin these talks. Every effort is being made to do this. But the official decision will be made by the Arab foreign ministers and the PLO executive committee," he said.

    "Keep in mind that we have agreed as Arabs and Palestinians to begin the proximity talks last March, and then the Israeli government decided to introduce 1,600 housing units on occupied land in East Jerusalem which sabotaged that effort.

    "Now, I hope that once the Arab foreign ministers and the PLO executive committee meet next week we can have an answer on whether to begin these talks."

    There was no immediate reaction from Israeli government officials.

    Indirect talks

    Indirect talks involve US officials meeting with one side at a time, and there are no negotiations planned where Israelis and Palestinians are at the same table.

    "Ultimately, we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues that they must," Clinton told reporters after meeting Mohammad Sabah al-Salem al Sabah, Kuwait's foreign minister in Washington.

    Al-Sabah said he was confident Arab states would back the initiative to get talks back on track.

     "We support fully the position that the United States has taken," he said.

    in depth

      Israel expands settlements
      Map of East Jerusalem housing plan
      White House split over settlements
      Can the US broker a breakthrough?
      Israelis divided over settlements?
      Jerusalem's religious heart
      Q&A: Jewish settlements
      Jerusalem: A city divided
      Riz Khan:
      US and Israel: scarred relations?
      Battle over settlements
      Inside Story:
      US-Israel: Unsettled dispute
      Israel: Rise of the right
      Holy Land Grab

    Negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel have been stalled since Israel's three-week assault on the Gaza Strip began in December 2008.

    Attempts to restart the process last month collapsed when Israel announced construction of a new housing project in occupied East Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the future capital of any independent state.

    Relations between the US and Israel have been strained in recent months over the settlement issue.

    But on Thursday, Clinton's reassured that ties remain strong, saying that Washington's commitment to its traditional ally is "unshakeable".

    She warned Syria and Iran of taking actions that threaten the security of Israel, saying that Syria's alleged transfer of weaponry to Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas movement, as well as Iran's nuclear ambitions, could destabilise the region.

    "These threats to Israel's security are real, they are growing and they must be addressed," she said in a speech to the American Jewish Committee, a US-based advocacy group.

    Clinton told the audience in Washington that Israel was currently "confronting some of the toughest challenges in her history", highlighting support for Hezbollah and Hamas from Syria and Iran.

    "Transferring weapons to these terrorists, especially longer-range missiles, would pose a serious threat to the security of Israel," she said.

    Israel has accused Syria of providing Hezbollah, with which it fought a month-long war in the summer of 2006, with Scud missiles, which would dramatically increase the group's ability to strike targets inside Israel.

    Damascus has dismissed the Scud claims, but on Thursday, Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief, refused to confirm or deny the allegations, saying they were an attempt to "intimidate" the group.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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