U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held high-level meetings on Wednesday with Israeli Deputy Premier Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat, The Associated Press reported.
The report noted that the meeting is part of the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts to get Israel and the PA to return to peace talks. As part of these efforts, AP reported, Clinton met last week Israel’s lead negotiator Yitzhak Molcho and spoke by phone with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
U.S. officials said the goal of the efforts is to improve the atmosphere for direct talks that broke down three years ago.
“We are working hard at keeping these parties working and talking, and trying to keep them committed to this process,” AP quoted State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland as having said Wednesday. “The process is still very much alive. I don’t dispute the fact that we’ve had some bad incidents on the ground this week ... but that is further to why these parties need to stay engaged.”
Erekat, who spoke to reporters after meeting with Clinton, said that the PA wants to restart negotiations but repeated the longstanding demand that this can’t be done until and unless Israel stops Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria.
“We want to resume negotiations,” he said, according to AP, adding, “We are not against negotiations. The Israeli prime minister has a choice to make: settlements or peace. Because the question is: If you want two states, why are you raising settlements on the land that is supposed to be Palestine?”
Erekat added that Abbas is studying a proposal to meet with Mofaz. Nuland would not comment on whether the administration was trying to broker such a meeting but AP quoted her as having said the U.S. is “looking for as much direct engagement between Israelis and Palestinians as we can have.”
Abbas has continued to demand that Israel accept the indefensible pre-1967 lines as final borders, release all Arab terrorists from its jails, and halt construction in Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem for a second time before talks begin.
He recently warned that he may seek non-member status for a Palestinian state at the United Nations if peace talks with Israel do not resume.
Erekat said last week Abbas will demand the release of 123 long-term prisoners before agreeing to meet Netanyahu.
Mofaz has publicly called on Abbas to take advantage of the large coalition and begin peace negotiations.
Speaking at a meeting of the Kadima council, Mofaz addressed Abbas, saying, “Forget the letters, forget the preconditions - Let's talk peace now. The coalition today is the widest ever, and this allows for a political breakthrough.”