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Borders top Palestinian agenda for talks

May 21, 2010 3:41 P.M. (Updated: May 25, 2010 9:39 A.M.)
Ramallah – Ma'an – Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat called a Washington Post report claiming the offer of massive Palestinian land concessions "irresponsible" and "counterproductive," after proximity talks concluded their second round on Thursday.

American and Israeli reports on the progress of talks, amid an official media blackout, speculated that Palestinian officials had offered a "concessions on territory beyond those offered in past Palestinian-Israeli peace talks," which Erekat "unequivocally denied" in a Friday statement.

The official called the reports "disturbing, foundless and baseless and only aim[ed] at harming Palestinian interests." Borders do, however, appear to be the central point of discussion for Palestinian negotiators.

A high-ranking source with direct knowledge of the proximity talks told Ma'an that Palestinian negotiators decided before the talks started that they would not entertain "discussion of details," with an expectation that Israeli officials would "mire Palestinian negotiators into the daily realities of the conflict," rather than deal with the larger issues at stake.

Suggestions that indirect proximity talks continue at the Egyptian border town of Taba were quashed by the Palestinian leadership, senior sources said, based on what was described as a flawed negotiations methodology.

Insider sources said officials insisted an agenda should be put together before sides gathered in Taba, and refused to work on the details of a proposed Taba meeting without an agenda in place.

Different negotiations styles thus saw President Mahmoud Abbas stipulate borders as the first topic under discussion, while Israeli officials demanded talks center on security issues and Jerusalem, the source explained.

Defending his stance on borders first, Abbas apparently told the source, that if 'we agree on the borders, the files of Jerusalem, security and the right of return will follow.'

If negotiators do no agree on borders, the official was told, 'then some serious questions will arise, and could jeopardize the entire talks.'

The current position of negotiators, the official said, was that they would rather they fail entirely, rather than "die a clinical death" mired in details.

Those around the talks remain pessimistic regarding their outcome, sources said, with one official saying the team was "waiting for a miracle from Obama," failing which, officials would continue to back the independent declaration of a state in 2011.

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