JERUSALEM – The PLO executive committee gave the green light Saturday to indirect Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
U.S. Middle East envoy George J. Mitchell will shuttle between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators over the coming four months, hoping to narrow differences in talks that have been stalled for 18 months.
The “proximity” talks were pushed by the Obama administration because Palestinians refuse to conduct direct negotiations unless Israel agrees to halt settlement construction on land it seized after the 1967 Middle East War, including in East Jerusalem.
The announcement of a 1,600-unit project in March, issued during Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel, derailed the previous start date for proximity talks.
Although Israeli officials insist that they have not agreed to stop or slow housing construction in Jerusalem, Palestinians said Saturday that they had received assurances from the U.S. that Israel would refrain from “provocations.”
“Our decision was based on certain guarantees we received from the U.S., namely that the U.S. will take a firm political position against any provocation that will affect the peace process and the proximity talks,” said Yasser Abed-Rabbo, secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, during a news briefing in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Some conservative Israeli politicians say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has secretly agreed to halt such projects. His office denied those claims.
Even before formal talks begin, both sides have been accusing each other of lacking commitment to the peace process.