Abbas: No Direct Peace Talks Before Progress Made in Proximity Talks

Palestinian president seeks progress on security arrangements and borders of future Palestinian state; Both Netanyahu and Obama urge direct talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday he wanted progress in indirect peace talks with Israel before any move to face-to-face talks, which the United States wants the two sides to begin.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

U.S. President Barack Obama urged the two sides this week to resume direct talks by September. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met Obama in Washington on Tuesday, says he wants to negotiate directly with Abbas.

But Abbas faces heavy domestic criticism over the failure of past negotiations and is wary of agreeing to more direct talks with Netanyahu's right-wing government.

Speaking in Ramallah, Abbas reiterated the Palestinian demand for progress in the indirect "proximity" talks, being mediated by U.S. envoy to the region George Mitchell, before any move to direct negotiations.

The indirect talks have been under way for two months.

"We said that if there is progress we will go to direct talks. If no progress happens, what is the benefit of negotiations that will be futile and useless," he said.

The Palestinian president spoke Saturday at a religious event marking the ascension to heaven of the Prophet Mohammed.

Abbas said the Palestinians wanted the indirect talks to make progress on two issues: security arrangements and the borders of the state the Palestinians aim to establish in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

"We are still hoping to realize success that will allow us to launch serious negotiations leading to peace," said Abbas, who spoke to Obama by phone on Friday.

The White House said the leaders "reviewed ways to advance to direct talks in the near term".

Abbas said Israel must stop building settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and remove the Jewish enclaves under a final peace deal. He did not repeat his previous demand for a complete halt to settlement building as a condition for direct peace talks.

The Palestinians say the settlements, which pepper the West Bank, will make it impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel - the outcome envisaged by major powers.

Netanyahu signaled on Thursday he would not extend beyond September a 10-month moratorium on new home building in West Bank settlements. He said this week he was prepared to discuss the future of the settlements "right away" if the Palestinians entered direct peace talks.