| GEO World|
Israel rejects 'preconditions' for direct peace talks
| Updated at: 1227 PST, Monday, August 16, 2010|
JERUSALEM: Israel rejects any preconditions for relaunching direct talks with the Palestinians, an Israeli official said Monday ahead of an expected invitation to talks from the international Quartet.
"Israel is ready to start direct negotiations immediately, but without any preconditions," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"The Palestinians, who have lost valuable time by refusing to revive these direct contacts, will present all the topics they want to discuss at the negotiating table," the official added.
The Quartet -- comprised of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia -- was expected to issue a statement in the coming days inviting both sides to relaunch direct talks last suspended in late 2008.
The Palestinians have said it will be modeled on a Quartet statement issued in Moscow in March that called on Israel to halt settlement construction, and for the direct talks to lead to a final peace deal in two years.
They have resisted months of US pressure to relaunch the talks, arguing that Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not serious about the creation of a Palestinian state in lands occupied by Israel in 1967.
Israel has repeatedly called for direct talks but has refused to completely halt settlement activity, which it considers a "precondition," but which the Palestinians say was part of previous agreements.
Israeli media meanwhile reported that a forum of seven top cabinet members have decided to reject the Quartet statement, which may call on Israel to extend a limited West Bank settlement freeze set to expire in September for another 10 months.
"The Quartet declaration should allow the Palestinians to descend the tree they have climbed by refusing negotiations, but it is not binding on Israel," several Israeli media outlets quoted an unnamed minister as saying.
The minister was quoted as saying that Netanyahu's government would reject the appeal from the Quartet but accept a parallel invitation issued by the United States that would be "more balanced."
The two sides launched indirect US-brokered talks in May, after the last round of face-to-face talks collapsed when Israel launched a devastating offensive in Gaza in December 2008 in a bid to halt rocket fire from the enclave ruled by the militant Hamas movement.