Abbas and Obama
Abbas and ObamaIsrael news photo: White House

Statements by Palestinian Authority and Israeli leaders clearly indicate “we are not at a point where both have yet agreed to direct negotiations," U.S. State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley told reporters Monday.

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell is expected back in the region this week, and senior PA negotiator Saeb Erekat confirmed that U.S. President Barack Obama has personally asked PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to agree to direct talks with Israel for a new Arab country within Israel.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) secretary general Yasser Abed Rabbo said that it does not make any difference whether the talks continue or not because “they have achieved nothing.” While denying that the American-mediated “proximity talks” have been suspended, Abu Rabbo told Voice of Palestine radio, “Even if they stopped…keep it going or halting it is no longer important.”

He added that the substance of the talks is more important than whether they are direct or indirect.

Abbas said on Saturday that it would be “absurd and useless” to move to direct talks before progress is made by Mitchell. The PA has demanded that Israel extend the temporary building freeze on building by Jews in Judea and Samaria.

The freeze is to end in late September, when violence may erupt if Israel does not accept Abbas' demands, according to analysts quoted by Chinese news agency Xinhua.

The news agency noted that both Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu have little move to maneuver without losing their respective political bases. Xinhua quoted Gaza-based political science professor Naji Shurab as saying that Abbas risks as shift of support for Hamas if he compromise with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“The position of Abbas is not strong. It's weak because of Palestinian fragmentation, so he wants some form of justification for going to direct talks," said Shurab.