Peace talks AP 2.9.2010
Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas at talks in Washington D.C., September 2, 2010. Photo by AP
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The skepticism which plagued the Palestinian camp prior to the recent relaunch of direct Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has all but disappeared, aides to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the Arabic language London-based newspaper Al-Hayat on Saturday.

Speaking at the launch of direct peace talks on Thursday, Abbas urged Israel to end construction in the West Bank settlements, on land that the Palestinians seek for a future state, saying that negotiations would face many hurdles, but that the goals were clear and the path to an enduring peace was known to both sides.

"We call on the Israeli government to move forward with its commitment to end all settlement activities and completely lift the embargo over the Gaza Strip," Abbas said.

According to the Al Hayat report on Saturday, those close to the Palestinian president claimed the atmosphere in the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks in Washington had "changed by 180 degrees" from the hesitance which prevailed prior to their arrival at Washington.

Sources told the London-based newspaper that the reasons for the change in attitude were both the United States' desire to settle all final-status issues within one year as well as U.S. pressure on Israel to extent its soon-to-be-expired moratorium on settlement building.

On Friday, chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks with Israel Saeb Erekat denied reports earlier Friday that the two sides would meet again in the West Bank on Monday after kicking off a new round of negotiations in Washington.

In a conversation with Haaretz, Erekat dismissed claims made earlier in the day by another senior Palestinian negotiator, Nabil Shaath, who said the parties would follow up Friday's U.S. meeting with another in the city of Jericho on Monday.

Shaath, who attended the official launch of the direct peace talks in Washington earlier this week, said a United States representative would be present at the meeting, which would also include Erekat and chief Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho.

According to Shaath, the unscheduled meeting would lay ground for the next formal negotiating session, scheduled to begin on September 14 in the southern Sinai Red Sea city of Sharm al-Sheikh.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will all participate in the Sinai summit.

Shaath said Israel had decided to postpone the end of its 10-month freeze on West Bank settlement freeze from September 26 to September 30 to give the sides extra time to negotiate.

"Israelis claim that they can't continue the settlement freeze while we say that we can’t continue with negotiations if settlement building continues," Shaath said. "We will continue to work seriously until the end of the month."