Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he would not start direct peace talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, unless progress was made in U.S.-mediated contacts on the issues of borders and security.
Abbas held a two-hour meeting with Washington's special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell in Ramallah, in a new round of indirect Palestinian-Israeli talks.
The four-month time frame allocated to the indirect talks by the Arab League is due to enter into half time next week.
Abbas warned in a string of interviews with Israeli media published Thursday that his people were losing faith in a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Hosting six Israeli correspondents for dinner late Wednesday to appeal to the Israeli public and leadership, he said that progress in peace negotiations with the government of the nationalist Netanyahu was moving too slowly.
"I too have a fragile coalition and a million more internal problems than Netanyahu," he said.
"We want to live in peace. Don't kill the hope," he added.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters after the Abbas-Mitchell meeting that the two discussed the borders of the future Palestinian state and the security arrangements between it and Israel.
Abbas said in the interviews with the Israeli press he was willing to accept a third party presence in the future state, such as one led by the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) or the United Nations, but "not a single Israeli" soldier.
That had already been agreed on in principle with the previous Israeli government of former premier Ehud Olmert, he said.
Olmert had also agreed in principle to a one-on-one land swap and that the Palestinian state would include the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
But, he charged, the Netanyahu government had thus far failed to submit its own answers to the Palestinian demands on these issues.
"We hope that all this effort will lead to an agreement on marking out the borders based on the 1967 lines," said Erekat.
Erekat said Abbas discussed with Mitchell other issues that had to do with demolition of homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, the deportation of Hamas lawmakers from their East Jerusalem residences, and Israeli settlement activities in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.
"We want to be clear and that is we cannot talk about a meaningful peace process and move to direct negotiations without progress in the issue of borders and a halt to Israeli measures," said Erekat.
Abbas said in interviews that "as soon as there is progress, we'll shift to direct talks, but up until now we haven't received even a single sign that might indicate progress on those issues."
Netanyahu, for his part, called on Abbas to restart direct talks regardless.
"We are now in the midst of proximity talks which we discussed from the start as a corridor to direct talks. I think the time has come for direct talks," he said, meeting Mitchell in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
"And I call on President Abbas to come to Jerusalem. I'm prepared to go to Ramallah. I think that this is the only way that we'll solve the intricate problems that we're discussing," he said, adding direct talks were also the "best way" to persuade the Israeli public of Palestinian peace intentions.
He said his demand for direct talks would be the focus of his scheduled meeting with U.S. President Obama at the White House next week.
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