Israeli and Palestinian delegates are separately holding covert talks with White House officials in Washington in an effort to reignite peace talks. The U.S. hopes the talks will hamper the Palestinian effort to gain United Nations recognition in a vote in September.
The Palestinians plan to unilaterally seek UN recognition of statehood in September -- a step Israel strongly opposes fearing it could end up isolated internationally.
The United States has already said it opposes the plan, which could kill off the initiative in the Security Council before it can reach the General Assembly.
In response to a U.S. initiative, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent aide Yitzhak Molcho as the Israeli representative, while the Palestinians have sent negotiator Saeb Erekat and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeinah.
The Unites States initiated the talks following the French proposal which calls for Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to meet this month or by early July with an eye to reviving talks which broke off last year in a dispute on Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.
In a joint press conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Monday agreed that peace talks must resume between the two parties.
"Right now there is no agreement that the parties will resume negotiations and any gathering has to be linked to willingness of parties to negotiate. It won't be productive to have a conference about returning to negotiations. We are in a wait-and-see attitude, and we have a serious concern about the role Hamas will play in the negotiations," Clinton said after her meeting with French counterpart Juppe in Washington.
"There is no doubt we agree with France that we want the parties to return to negotiations," she added.
Juppe strengthened Clinton's statements, saying that "there is an agreement between us that we have to convince the parties its not a good idea to go to the UN. I didn’t expect during my recent Mideast visit an enthusiastic response from the parties."
"The Palestinians reacted positively and the Israelis didn’t say no. We will only have this conference if there is sufficient work done," he said, adding that "our main concern is what we are heading [for] in September. This situation will be difficult for everybody and the only way to avoid it is to boost the re-launch of the negotiations."
Juppe this week offered to host talks to discuss ideas for a Palestinian state raised last month by U.S. President Barack Obama, aiming to avert a showdown at the United Nations in September.
Abbas said the French plan "talks about President Obama's vision... in which he spoke about a (Palestinian) state with the '67 borders with borders with Israel, Egypt and Jordan."
Netanyahu has rejected any withdrawal to the borders existing before Israel captured the West Bank in the Six Day War, insisting such a frontier would be "indefensible."
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