CAIRO – The Palestinians have asked the Obama administration to clarify a U.S. envoy's proposal to restart long-stalled peace talks with Israel indirectly by shuttling between the two sides, the Palestinian president said Saturday.
The talks collapsed a year ago during Israel's war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Efforts by President Barack Obama since then to revive them have failed in large part over the issue of Israel's settlement construction in areas the Palestinians want for a future state.
On Saturday, Abbas met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose country has also served as an intermediary between Israel and the Palestinians, to discuss the new U.S. plan.
"We have asked the American side some questions ... and the answers will be discussed within a joint Arab framework and then we will announce our position," Abbas said.
The Palestinian president said in a meeting with reporters Friday night that he is optimistic the United States can push the sides back to talks. First, though, he wants clear guidelines on the offer by U.S. envoy George Mitchell to conduct shuttle diplomacy.
Peace talks that began in November 2007 under former President George W. Bush broke off in December 2008 with Israel's attack on Gaza, which is ruled by Abbas' rivals in the Islamic militant Hamas movement.
"I'm optimistic that the American administration is capable of doing something to bring about a breakthrough in the peace process," Abbas said Friday.
He made it clear, however, that the Palestinians were not willing to offer more compromises to get the process moving again.
The Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, said after meeting with Abbas in Cairo that discussions are "entering a new phase" which could signal renewed peace talks.
"The Palestinians are vigilant that there must be a time frame, and that issues must be jotted down on paper," he said. "We are very vigilant against any Israeli tricks."
The Palestinians insist first on a full freeze of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. They rejected a partial 10-month freeze imposed in late November as insufficient because it does not include east Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to establish a capital.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a conference Wednesday that he had reason to believe the talks could resume in a matter of weeks, though he gave no details.