Read with caution but if true a welcome development (though, how much longer must we accept the role of the Palestinian Authority as representing all Palestinians? They do not:)
The US has given private assurances to encourage the Palestinians to join indirect Middle East peace talks, including an offer to consider allowing UN security council condemnation of any significant new Israeli settlement activity, the Guardian has learned.
The assurances were given verbally in a meeting a week ago between a senior US diplomat and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. Since then – and after months of US diplomacy – it appears Israeli and Palestinian leaders are close to starting indirect “proximity” talks, which would be the first resumption of the Middle East peace process since Israel‘s war in Gaza began in late 2008.
There was no official confirmation of the details of the meeting and Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, denied assurances were given. “It’s not true,” he said. “We are still talking to the Americans.”
But a Palestinian source, who was given a detailed account of the meeting, said David Hale, the deputy of the US special envoy, George Mitchell, told Abbas that Barack Obama wanted to see the peace process move forward with the starting of indirect talks. The diplomat said Washington understood there were obstacles and described Israeli settlement construction as “provocative”.
He told Abbas the Americans had received assurances from the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, that one particular settlement project in East Jerusalem, at Ramat Shlomo, would not go ahead, at least for now. The site is important because last month an agreement on indirect talks collapsed within a day of being announced, after Israeli officials gave planning approval for 1,600 new homes in the settlement. The US vice‑president, Joe Biden, who was in Jerusalem at the time, condemned the Israeli announcement in unusually strong language.
Hale then told Abbas that if there was significantly provocative settlement activity, including in East Jerusalem, Washington may consider allowing the UN security council to censure Israel. It was understood that meant the US would abstain from voting on a resolution rather than use its veto.