Palestinians to give Israelis deadline on talks

KARIN LAUB Associated Press Published:

JERICHO, West Bank (AP) -- Palestinian officials said Saturday they plan to give a deadline to Israel to accept ground rules for negotiations, and suggested that a 'no' will allow them to shelve Mideast talks until it does.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is to spell out the requirements in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki. He said he did not know by when Netanyahu would have to respond.

Abbas has long said he will not resume talks unless Israel freezes settlement construction on occupied lands and recognizes the pre-1967 war frontier as a baseline for talks on a border between Israel and a future Palestine. The Palestinians want to establish their state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967.

Netanyahu has rejected both demands, insisting that negotiations resume without what he has portrayed as preconditions. A government official reiterated Saturday that Israel is ready to resume talks immediately.

Palestinian officials have said there is no point negotiating with the rightist Netanyahu government, arguing that there is not enough common ground for reaching an agreement. A negative Israeli response to the Abbas letter would free the Palestinian leader to pursue other options, including reviving a bid to win U.N. membership for a state of Palestine.

Abbas has been under international pressure to keep negotiating with Israel; the last round of full-fledged negotiations between Abbas and Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, broke down in 2008. Netanyahu has retreated from Olmert's positions, insisting for example that he will not relinquish east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital.

In January, Abbas reluctantly agreed to low-level border talks with Israel, but quit after five rounds, complaining that Israel did not present detailed proposals, as required by the Quartet of international Mideast mediators, made up of the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia.

Both Netanyahu and Abbas are eager to not get blamed for the continued deadlock.

With the letter, Abbas "wants to make sure that he tried every possible way" to resume negotiations, said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO official.

Malki said the Palestinians don't expect a positive Israeli response, but that the letter is meant to help explain to the world why the Palestinians would abandon negotiations.

"The Palestinian leadership will inform the world of the details of the content of this letter ... to understand the (Palestinian) leadership, in case it is forced to take any measures to protect the Palestinian rights," he said.

An Israeli government official said that "if the idea (of the letter) is to reinforce preconditions, that would be a mistake." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he has not seen the letter.

A Palestinian official said the Palestinians would hand the letter to Netanyahu after the Israeli leader returns from Washington next week. Netanyahu meets with President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, but the growing tensions over Iran's nuclear program are likely to preoccupy the two leaders and push the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the side.

The Palestinian official said the letter will spell out the requirements for serious negotiations and list Israel's perceived violations of its peace obligations.

Abbas will also describe a continued erosion of the authority of his self-rule government by Israel, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations. Abbas' Palestinian Authority has partial control in 38 percent of the West Bank, while Israel fully controls the rest of that territory.