Indirect Middle East talks begin

Israeli PM calls for direct negotiations with Palestinians as Mitchell and Abbas meet.

    US involvement

    But Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said peace with the Palestinians would be impossible without direct negotiations and he called for a swift move from the US-mediated indirect talks to face-to-face contacts.

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    "The proximity talks must bring about direct talks soon. Peace cannot be brought about from a distance, or with a remote control," Netanyahu told his cabinet in public remarks on Sunday.

    Al Jazeera's Nour Odeh, reporting from Ramallah, said the Palestinians hope to reach agreement with the US on what a future Palestinian state would look like before moving towards direct negotiations with Israel.

    "The proactive and direct American effort is what's giving this process some momentum now," she said.

    "There is really very little trust in the Israeli side. Many Palestinian leaders here do not believe there is a partner on the Israeli side to talk to, but there is a lot more confidence in [US President Barack] Obama's administration at this point."

    The weekend developments coincided with a statement by Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, that Syria too is ready to restart indirect peace talks with Israel.

    Gul made the announcement on Saturday during a two-day visit to Turkey by Bashar al-Assad, his Syrian counterpart. He said Turkey would mediate the talks.

    On Sunday, the two were set to hold a tri-lateral summit with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, to discuss a range of regional issues.

    PLO backing

    Officials of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Fatah, the party led by Abbas, gave their backing to indirect talks with Israel on Saturday in what they said was an effort to break diplomatic deadlock.

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

    Attempts by the Obama administration to restart the stalled process in March 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.

    The Palestinians have said they want the indirect talks to focus on the final borders of their future state.

    Netanyahu announced a 10-month settlement freeze in the West Bank in November.

    Abbas's timetable for indirect talks will roughly coincide with the end of that freeze.

    Israeli officials have said repeatedly that they will not approve another halt in construction, regardless of what happens during negotiations.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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