Israeli Deputy PM has been tasked to revive Mideast talks

Israeli Deputy PM has been tasked to revive Mideast talks

Israeli Deputy PM has been tasked to revive Mideast talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) looks to his deputy Shaul Mofaz during their joint press conference in the Parliament. Mofaz will meet with Palestinian president Abbas in Ramallah on July 1 for a negotiation meeting. EPA photo

Israeli Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on July 1, a Palestinian official has said, in the highest-level meeting between the sides since peace talks broke down in 2010.

“There will be a meeting on July 1 between President Abbas and Mr. Mofaz. This comes after a request for a meeting from Mofaz,”

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat told Voice of Palestine Radio yesterday.

A spokesman for Mofaz did not confirm or deny that a meeting had been arranged, but he did say there was ongoing contact with Abbas’ office toward setting up such an event.

Mofaz told reporters this month that he intended to meet Abbas “to examine ways to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians.” However, few expect any progress in the long-frozen peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians ahead of the U.S. presidential elections in November.

‘Don’t raise expectations

“We do not want to raise expectations or lower them. This is not a negotiation meeting. The one responsible for negotiations is the (Israeli) prime minister as well as the official negotiating teams,” Reuters quoted Erekat as saying. He added that the meeting would take place in the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

Mofaz, the head of Israel’s centrist Kadima party, joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition in May to form one of the biggest coalitions in Israeli history, a move that commentators said could give Netanyahu a freer hand to seek peace with the Palestinians.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in late 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, and Palestinians have demanded a halt to further construction before talks resume.

The Palestinians view settlement construction as a sign of bad faith and say there is no point in talking as long as Israel builds homes for its citizens on occupied lands that they claim for part of their eventual state. More than 500,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel says the settlements issue should be resolved during negotiations and rejects any pre-conditions for talks.

Mofaz recently returned from a diplomatic visit in Washington, where he held high-level meetings with U.S. officials on the resuming of peace talks. At the same time, Erekat also visited the U.S. for talks with Secretary of State Hillary

Clinton. Speaking to Israel Radio, Mofaz said Palestinian preconditions had become an obstacle and that the upcoming negotiations must and will be restarted “without any preconditions.”

One of the main conditions of the Kadima party joining the governing coalition was the advancement of the peace process in a responsible manner.