United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday expressed doubt about the Palestinians' intentions with regard to upcoming peace talks during a meeting with his Czech counterpart.
'The Palestinians' indecision on holding indirect talks with all kinds of excuses raises questions about their seriousness," Lieberman told Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout. "I hope that, despite this, we will succeed in holding talks in a proper fashion."
On Friday, the U.S. envoy travels to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Despite media reports that Mitchell's meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.
It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.
Abbas said Wednesday that U.S.-brokered indirect peace talks with Israel could quickly collapse if they do not focus on core issues like the final borders of a Palestinian state.
"Negotiations will focus on final status issues and there's no need to enter into details and small matters because we have had enough of that in the previous negotiations," Abbas said after talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II in the Jordanian capital.
Abbas gave the talks four months to make progress. After that, he said, he will seek Arab League advice on next steps.
"We said the indirect negotiations will last only four months," Abbas said. "After that, we will go to the Arab League to consult on whether to continue or what to do."
Israel says it is willing to address key issues in the indirect talks beginning Wednesday but maintains that their resolution can only come in direct negotiations.
The Palestinians have refused to hold direct talks with Israel until it freezes all construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem - areas the Palestinians want for a future state along with the Gaza Strip.
Abbas said crucial issues to be discussed in the indirect talks with Israel must include the final borders of a future Palestinian state.
In an interview with CNN earlier this week, the Palestinian leader said the Israeli side was being represented by a "radical and stubborn" government. He added that it would be difficult to convince Israel to pull out of Palestinian lands and deal with the status of Jerusalem and the future of refugees.
"We have [a] very hard time in convincing the Israeli administration of the need to withdraw from the territories, the need to solve the Jerusalem issue and the situation involving the refugees," Abbas told CNN from Abu Dhabi.
If the negotiations fail, he said, the Palestinians "will have to reassess" its stance for the future.
Abbas also ruled out support for Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's vision of unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state.
"There is no use for us to declare a state and be alone and the result will be that it will not be recognized by all the countries all over the world," he told CNN.
Direct Israeli-Palestinian talks were suspended in late 2008, as Israel headed for parliamentary elections. The talks have not been renewed since then, despite the efforts of the Obama adminstration.
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