Palestinian approval opens door to Mideast talks

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell will conduct the  talks by shuttling between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin  Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian  and Israeli officials said.  Mitchell has spent more than a year shuttling between the  leaders to revive the peace process that began in the early  1990s and has produced rounds of talks but no settlement.

There have been no negotiations since December, 2008, when  Israel launched an offensive in Gaza.

The United States has sought to revive the peace process,  calling the conflict a “vital national security interest”.

But many doubt whether the latest US effort can succeed  where years of diplomacy have failed. Indirect talks are a far  cry from the face-to-face negotiations of the past.

Netanyahu welcomed the resumption of peace talks.

“Israel’s position was and remains that the talks ought to  be conducted without preconditions and should quickly lead to  direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” a  statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

Speaking after Mitchell met Abbas in Ramallah yesterday,  chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians  wanted to build on past negotiations.

“We do not want to begin from zero,” he said.

“We believe the time is not for negotiations but decisions,”  he said, adding that an initial four months of indirect talks  would focus on the issues of the borders of a future Palestinian  state and security.

In Washington, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley  welcomed the PLO’s decision as “an important and welcome step”.

Erekat said Mitchell would make a statement on Sunday  including details on when the talks would start. Mitchell is due  to meet Abbas again  today before departing, he added.

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