Peres hopes Obama-led summit will yield return to peace talks
Hamas: Abbas 'stabbing Palestinians in back'; Fatah condemns holding 3-way meet before settlement freeze.
President Shimon Peres on Tuesday dismissed the "low expectations" attributed to the upcoming tripartite summit between Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S., and declared hope that the meeting could yield a resumption of stalled peace negotiations.
U.S. President Baracka Obama is to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday morning.
The tripartite meeting is not expected to yield an immediate return to peace talks, but Netanyahu's circle has nevertheless characterized it as a significant beginning for the Middle East process.
"Everyone is trying to lower expectation, but these expectations cannot be lowered," Peres told students on Tuesday during a visit to one of Israel's oldest agricultural schools. "I am sure that Netanyahu will take these expectations to their highest.
"I hope that Abu Mazen [Abbas] will return to the negotiations track," he said. "Netanyahu is correct that we must not open negotiations with a new set of conditions. For example, the Palestinians are demanding - even before negotiations - that East Jerusalem be declared a settlement. That is not progress."
Peres, known as a moderate but nonetheless on good terms with the hardline Netanyahu, called Abbas' demand that Israel halt all settlement activity prior to a resumption of peace talks a "mistake."
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, meanwhile, said in New York that the Palestinians had not changed their position.
The White House said on Monday that it had no "grand expectations" from just one trilateral meeting, but said that the move represented the Obama administration's willingness to embrace the Middle East issue and aim for a stable two-state solution.
Israel's envoy to the United Nations on Tuesday nevertheless hailed it as "symbolically" significant.
"This is much more important and significant than just a photo-op," Gabriela Shalev said hours before the scheduled meeting.
After Netanyahu landed in New York on Monday evening, his aides told Army Radio that the prime minister did not expect progress on negotiations to emerge from the upcoming summit.
Nevertheless, they echoed Shalev's assessment that the tripartite meeting was important for symbolic reasons.
Hamas: Abbas is 'stabbing Palestinians in the back'
The Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers on Tuesday accused Abbas of "stabbing Palestinians in the back" by meeting with Netanyahu and Obama.
Abbas' own Fatah movement has also expressed some hesitation regarding the summit, admonishing their leader for agreeing to meet with Netanyahu before Israel declared a complete free on West Bank settlement construction.
Associates of the Palestinian president responded to the criticism by characterizing the summit as a "courtesy" meeting and not the start of negotiations.