An aide to Yasser Arafat said on Thursday that the Palestinians were prepared to enter talks with Israel on how to emerge from the current impasse, signaling a readiness to break the two-month freeze in relations.
Marwan Kanafani, a spokesman for the Palestinian leader, said the talks should focus on the “reasons that led to the present crisis,” which are Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank and a Jewish housing project in eastern Jerusalem.
Kanafani did not make a halt to the construction a condition for resuming talks, which have been on hold since early March.
The Palestinian spokesman insisted that this was not a new position and that Arafat had made similar statements before. But Arafat and other Palestinian spokesmen have repeatedly pointed to the Jerusalem housing project as the reason for the impasse, at least implying that the political process could not continue until construction stopped.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also sought to moderate his statements and actions in recent days. On Wednesday, he announced a further lifting of restrictions on Palestinian workers entering Israel, and he held a meeting with Foreign Minister David Levy to discuss other gestures that Israel might make toward the Palestinians to help revive negotiations.
In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Netanyahu said Israel intended to build housing for Palestinians in eastern Jerusalem, something the Americans had been pressing the Israelis to do as a counterbalance to the planned Jewish housing, called Har Homa.