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US, Israel propose new talks to head off Palestinian UN bid

Aug. 2, 2011 10:36 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 3, 2011 11:04 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel is willing to begin new Middle East peace talks using the 1967 lines as a basis for negotiations if the Palestinians drop their UN membership bid, an Israeli government official confirmed on Tuesday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel has been working with Washington and members of the international peace-making Quartet to draw up a new framework that could relaunch stalled talks.

The package of principles aims to draw Palestinians back to the negotiating table and head off their plan to seek United Nations membership for a Palestinian state on the lines that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War.

But the Palestinians were unimpressed, with negotiator Saeb Erekat urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instead to "announce his position in front of the world and the international media."

Netanyahu should announce "that the 1967 borders are the basis for negotiations and a halt to all building of settlements on Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem," he told AFP, dismissing the reports as a PR exercise.

The framework negotiations were first reported by Israeli media on Monday night.

"Over the last few weeks there has been an ongoing attempt to restart the peace process to allow for the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians," the Israeli government official told AFP.

"The assumption is that if this process succeeds, the Palestinians will withdraw their proposal for unilateral action at the UN."

The framework being discussed is based on a speech made by US President Barack Obama to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC earlier this year.

In that address, Obama called for the negotiations that would create borders for "Israel and Palestine... based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps."

He said Israel was not being asked to return to the lines that existed before the 1967 war, when Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, and that a final deal would take account of "new demographic realities," a reference to Israel's settlements.

"The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people," he said.

"The formulation is something like: the goal for the talks is two states for two people and recognizing Israel as Jewish state," said the official.

The details described on Tuesday mirrored comments made by Netanyahu at a closed-door meeting of Israel's foreign affairs and defense committee on Monday, the Jerusalem Post reported.

He told the committee that Israel was working to "ensure" a US veto of Palestinian UN membership in the Security Council, but warned it was not possible to block a symbolic vote in support of the Palestinians at the General Assembly.

"We are interacting with the US to put together a document using language from Obama's second speech" to AIPAC, the Post quoted him as saying.

He said the framework would ensure Israel's recognition as a Jewish state, exclude Hamas from any talks and assure the final borders would not be the same as those before the Six-Day War.

But he warned he was pessimistic about the prospects for a resumption of talks, saying Abbas had "made a strategic decision to go to the UN, because the price for him will be low."

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since last September, grinding to a halt shortly after their relaunch earlier the same month over the issue of settlement construction.

Israel has declined to renew a partial settlement freeze that expired shortly after the direct talks began, and the Palestinians have said they will not negotiate while Israel builds on occupied land they want for a future state.

With talks on ice, they have instead pushed forward with the plan to seek UN membership for a Palestinian state this September.

President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted the plan does not rule out the possibility of new peace talks, but said he will not negotiate without a settlement freeze and a clear set of parameters for any new talks.

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