AMMAN/RAMALLAH (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will tell the PLO leadership about the U.S. push to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Thursday in order to decide whether to take part, a Palestinian official said.
The official spoke a day after Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the issue for five hours in Amman over an iftar dinner, the evening meal with which Muslims break their daily fast during the month of Ramadan.
A positive Palestinian decision, if one were to emerge on Thursday or soon thereafter, would be the first tangible sign of progress in Kerry’s nearly six-month drive to revive peace talks that broke down in 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Abbas has said settlement expansion must stop for negotiations to resume. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on him to return to talks unconditionally.
Palestinians also want deliberations on a future state to be based on lines that existed before Israel captured the two areas in the 1967 Middle East war. Netanyahu has called those boundaries indefensible for Israel.
“The president will present the offer made to him by Mr. Kerry in order to make a decision about it,” Wasel Abu Youssef, a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official, told Reuters in Ramallah of Abbas’s plan to brief PLO colleagues.
Abu Youssef gave no details of the purported proposal.
Israeli political commentators have speculated Netanyahu might agree to limit new construction to settlements inside blocs of land that Israel intends to keep in any future accord and accept, with reservations, a U.S. statement on using the pre-1967 lines as a basis for talks on swapping land for peace.
On his sixth visit to the region since taking office, Kerry and Abbas covered “all issues that can contribute to” resuming talks during their meeting on Tuesday, Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdainah, told the Palestinians’ WAFA news agency.
Kerry will see Abbas again on Wednesday after a meeting in Amman with officials from Arab nations whose support he regards as essential to any resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, a senior U.S. State Department official said.
“Beyond that, all details of what would be agreed to and any next steps are still being determined,” the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, had said earlier in the day.
After a round of shuttle diplomacy between Abbas and Netanyahu at the end of June, Kerry said: “With a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach”.
However, Israeli officials said they were unaware of any plans by Kerry to visit Israel on his latest trip, and some diplomats and Middle East analysts are sceptical that the Israelis and Palestinians will resume peace talks soon.
Moreover, some regard the issue as less pressing than Syria’s civil war, the Egyptian army’s overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi and Iran’s nuclear programme.
Israel’s civil defence minister, Gilad Erdan, said a settlement freeze, which Netanyahu partially imposed in 2009 for 10 months, was a non-starter.
“We had tried the settlement freeze in the past and this did not kick-start negotiations and the prime minister certainly cannot agree to the ‘67 borders, which we believe would be suicidal in the event of any future conflict,” Erdan told Israel Radio.
Most countries consider Israel’s settlements on occupied land illegal, a view it disputes.
On Wednesday, Kerry met officials from countries that supported a 2002 Arab League proposal that offered full Arab recognition of Israel if it gave up land seized in 1967 and accepted a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.
Countries represented at the meeting included Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The majority sent second-tier officials such as ambassadors and ministers of state, though Jordan and Qatar were both represented by their foreign ministers.
The Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Maliki attended, as did Arab League Secretary General Nabil El-Araby.
Kerry has sought to ensure that any new peace process would have the backing of the Arab League states, which, if they were to offer Israel a comprehensive regional peace, could provide a strong incentive for Israeli compromise.
The core issues that need to be settled in the more than six-decade-old dispute include borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees, the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem.
Kerry has made clear that the civil war in Jordan’s northern neighbour Syria was also on his mind.
Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Alastair Macdonald