Ahmad Khatib, AFP
Last updated: 26 January, 2012

Ashton: No deadlock in Palestinian-Israeli talks

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Thursday the Palestinians’ announcement that they were ending informal talks with Israel does not mean the two sides have reached an “impasse.”

“I do not think there is an impasse. I know that president (Mahmud) Abbas is thinking carefully about how to move forward. For him the meeting of the Arab (League) Follow Up Committee in Cairo is extremely important,” Ashton told reporters after meeting Abbas in Amman.

“I know he is hoping that Israel will recognise that gestures can make a difference. But, meeting with him and meeting with the Israelis, I still remain hopeful that with good will they can continue to talk, so not a dead end but certainly there needs to be momentum.”

She urged measures to build confidence between the two sides.

“The question for this particular phase of very informal discussions is how to inspire confidence in the process in both directions, and I think that is what is being discussed,” said Ashton, who also met Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

The outcome of her talks with Abbas was not immediately clear.

But it was expected to be a last-ditch attempt to persuade the Palestinians not to abandon a series of low-level talks with Israel over the possibility of renewing direct negotiations.

A top Israeli official said the Palestinians should allow the talks to continue, saying it was “very important” that they keep going.

“Yesterday in Jordan, the Israeli side presented the principles on which its policy concerning the territorial issue is determined,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“That followed the meeting on Saturday night in Jordan in which we presented the principles upon which we look at the security issue.”

The official added: “The Palestinians have asked for further clarifications, as we have of them on issues they’ve presented.

“It is therefore very important that we continue the direct face-to-face discussions on these and other issues,” he said.

The United States is urging the Palestinians to continue the talks, a Palestine Liberation Organisation official said.

“President Barack Obama, through meetings with Arab and foreign officials, sent us messages to the effect that we should not let the year pass without progress in the negotiations,” he told AFP.

“The messages didn’t contain any kind of threat,” he said, adding that Obama made clear “that he would make efforts with the Israeli government to urge them to move the negotiations forward.”

A deadline for Israel and the Palestinians to submit proposals on borders and security, which the Quartet set three months ago, expires Thursday.

Following Wednesday’s talks, a senior Palestinian official said “there will be no further exploratory talks with the Israeli side.

“All these meetings have gone nowhere because Israel has moved not one step to enable a resumption of negotiations,” he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Palestinians say they have presented their proposals on territory and security within the timeline announced by the Quartet on October 26, and accuse Israel of not reciprocating.

Following a meeting on Wednesday with King Abdullah II, Abbas appeared to soften his long-standing position on renewing direct talks with Israel, saying talks were possible if the Jewish state would agree on a formula for borders.

“If we determine the borders, it is possible to return to negotiations, but the Israelis don’t want to determine the borders,” he said in comments published by the Palestinians’ official WAFA news agency.

The Palestinians have said they will agree to return to talks only if Israel agrees to freeze settlement construction and if it accepts the lines that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War as the basis for discussions on future borders.

On Wednesday, Ashton met with Netanyahu, who insisted he was looking for ways to ensure the channels of communication were kept open.

“We have been trying to make sure the talks between us and the Palestinians continue,” he told reporters before sitting down with Ashton.

Abbas said Wednesday the Palestinians would now enter “a phase of evaluations and consultations” with the Jordanian king, before talks with the Arab League Follow-up Committee, scheduled for February 4.

“There we will take the decision,” he said.