Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will announce the start of direct peace negotiations with Israel in only "a matter of days," a senior official in the Obama administration told Haaretz over the weekend.
A number of minor details need to be clarified with Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that will open the way for direct talks, the official added.
Sources in Washington say the Palestinians are likely to announce the start of direct negotiations as early as Monday, and a similar announcement will be made by the Quartet of Mideast mediators, which will call for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders within a year or two.
Contrary to the optimism in Washington, Israeli officials are trying to show toughness regarding preconditions. "Israel is not willing to agree to any preconditions from the back door via a Quartet announcement that will serve as a basis for the negotiations," a senior official in Jerusalem said.
"As far as we know, the negotiations may begin in two days, but also in two weeks."
If an announcement is made this week on resuming direct talks, a ceremony is expected to be held inaugurating the process.
The senior U.S. official said it is still unclear whether President Barack Obama would take part in the inauguration or whether the parties would be invited to Washington for a ceremony.
According to the senior Israeli official, the ceremony would be held in Egypt under the auspices of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak; the United States would be represented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Over the weekend international leaders pressured Abbas to announce this week the resumption of direct negotiations.
Meanwhile, a senior Fatah official, Azam al-Ahmed, who is accompanying Abbas on a visit to Qatar, said on Saturday that the Palestinian Authority would announce on Sunday or Monday its position on resuming direct talks with Israel.
Palestinian sources said last week real progress had been made following a meeting between Abbas and U.S. special envoy George Mitchell.
Abbas is demanding that the negotiations have a clear framework for the ideas that will be put in place; he also wants a commitment by Israel to cease settlement construction during the direct talks.
The Palestinian leader told Mitchell that the Quartet would reiterate its declaration from March that included a call for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and an end to the occupation that began in 1967.
There would be the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and an end to settlement construction. In addition, residents of Jerusalem would not be expelled from their homes and the two sides would not take any unilateral steps.
Palestinian sources said Mitchell did not reject the suggestions.
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