Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Barack Obama, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Barack Obama, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New York in September 2009. Photo by Reuters
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Reuters
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Photo by Reuters

Final status issues, including the borders of a future Palestinian state, can only be addressed during direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, a top U.S. official said Wednesday.

The comment by State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley came after reports surfaced earlier Wednesday, according to which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has vowed to resist U.S. pressure to open direct peace talks with Israel, unless he receives less "vague" guarantees on the issues of Israeli settlement construction and the borders of a future Palestinian state.

Abbas told the 128 delegates of his Fatah party's Revolutionary Council late Tuesday that he received a verbal message from U.S. President Barack Obama.

The U.S. president asked him to enter into direct negotiations, but some clauses in his message were "vague" and "not clear, particularly those which define the occupied territories, that is the West Bank and Gaza Strip," Abbas said.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Crowley said that the main message Obama's administration had been sending to both parties in the Middle East peace talks was"
"Let's get to direct negotiations as quickly as possible."

Once direct talks commence, Crowley stated, parties can "address the fundamental issues in the process, including borders." These are issues that we think can only be resolved within the context of direct negotiations."

While Crowley stated that the ongoing proximity talks had indeed provided an foundation for future direct negotiations, "ultimately, in order to address, you know, the concerns that we know that both parties have -- refugees, security, Jerusalem, borders -- those can only be resolved in direct negotiations themselves."

When asked whether or not the United States had an idea of how the borders of the future Palestinian state would look like, the State Department spokesmen said that Washington would " play a constructive role, but ultimately this is a - this is something that the parties themselves have to -
have to resolve."

Crowley also reiterated the importance the Obama administration placed on involving regional powers in the attempts to jumpstart the stalling talks, indicating that U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell had also been meeting officials in the "UAE, Qatar and Egypt."

"We will continue our discussions, you know, with these key players and see if we can't find the way to move them forward," Crowley said.

Abbas: Abbas: U.S. assurances on borders needed before direct peace talks

Abbas' Tuesday speech to the Revolutionary Council was closed to journalists and only published by Fatah's al-Hayat al-Jadida newspaper Wednesday.


Proposals about a settlement freeze and the borders of the Palestinian state should be very clear, he said.

"If this happens, it will be possible to go to direct negotiations," Abbas said, but added: "We cannot go to direct negotiations as blind and we will resist that peacefully."
The Palestinian president said he had already laid out his position to Egyptian and Jordanian leaders and would make it position clear to the Arab League when it meets July 29.
"If there was development until then, the situation will change," he said.
Otherwise, he added, he would wait until September, when the current, partial 10-month moratorium on Israeli construction in the West Bank expires - as will the mandate handed to him by the Arab League for holding indirect talks with Israel.

He said the U.S. had asked Israel to carry out confidence-building measures to coincide with the start of the indirect talks, begun in the spring, including a halt to Israeli arrest raids of suspected militants in Palestinian-controlled cities, transferring larger areas of the West Bank to full Palestinian autonomy and releasing prisoners.

"When we agreed to the proximity (indirect) talks, none of this happened," he said, adding, "we agreed to go to the proximity talks to discuss borders and security and we gave the U.S. envoy George Mitchell our thoughts on that. But we have not yet received Israeli responses."

There must be progress in the indirect talks in order to move on to direct negotiations, he said.

Abbas also told his Fatah delegates that he was working on a cabinet reshuffle which he hoped to complete shortly.

Fatah has been demanding for a long time to receive key ministries in Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's cabinet, accusing the independent prime minister of excluding its members from his government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, told European Union foreign policy chief that he is ready to take a political risk to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, but only if he does not have to take a security risk, sources say.

During talks with Catherine Ashton, Netanyahu reiterated that he seeks to move forward quickly if direct negotiations with the Palestinians begin. He believes it would be possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians within a year. A deal would then be implemented gradually over a number of years.