Palestinians to Decide on Direct Talks in Two Days, PA Official Says

Abbas had indicated he could go to direct talks, provided they were based on a March 19 statement by the Quartet, which demands the halt of Israeli settlement construction.

The Palestinian Authority is to decide on whether or not it intended to agree to direct Middle East peace talks in the next few days, a senior Fatah member told the French news agency AFP on Saturday.

On Thursday, a letter written by the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, and exposed by Reuters, indicated that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas may agree to direct Middle East peace talks with Israel as early as next week.

Ashton said in a letter the statement would be issued early next week, if both parties agreed to proceed to direct talks, and negotiations would be launched in August.

Abbas indicated on Monday he could go to direct talks, provided they were based on a March 19 statement by the Quartet.

Ashton's letter said "Abbas is very close" to accepting direct talks. "In principle, President Abbas should be in a position to give a definitive answer by Sunday or early next week," it added.

In the letter, Ashton said the Quartet initiative "should help President Abbas rally enough support, both at home and abroad, to engage in direct talks."

Speaking with AFP on Saturday, Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of Fatah's Central Committee, said that the United States was "consulting with the Quartet and we want to know their final response to our demand."

"In light of that response, we will determine our final stance. We will give a yes or a no depending on what we will hear from the U.S. envoy David Hale on Sunday or Monday," al-Ahmad said.

The top PA official added that the Palestinian demands were "not preconditions as Israel tries to show. What we demand are basic requirements to the peace process, previously agreed on by interested parties," Al-Ahmad said.

According to Reuters' Thursday report, Ashton's letter indicates that the Quartet would demand that Israel should halt settlement building in the West Bank and reach a full peace agreement with the Palestinians within 24 months, creating a state on the basis of the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.

Ashton's letter made clear that these terms, contained in the Quartet's statement from Moscow on March 19, would form the basis of its statement "to be issued concurrently with the announcement of the launch of direct talks."

A Palestinian source close to negotiations said an agenda for the talks which speaks of a Palestinian state "on the basis of pre-1967 borders" could not be seen as an attempt to fix borders before negotiation.

"This language is what has been accepted in all the agreements over the past 18 years by Israeli prime ministers, including Netanyahu in his first term," he said.

Both sides have discussed a possible land swap to adjust borders under any deal, as Israel has sought to maintain control over several major settlement blocs in the West Bank.