PA Alludes to Possibility of Direct Talks

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JERUSALEM, Israel - In a bit of an about face on Monday, Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah said they had not fully ruled out resuming direct talks with Israel.

But despite the rhetoric, the PA's preconditions remain firmly in place, namely that Israel freeze all new construction in Judea, Samaria (the West Bank) and east Jerusalem and agree to pre-1967 borders for a future Palestinian state, meaning that Israel cede areas that came under Israeli sovereignty during the Six Day War.

Those areas would include cities such as Ariel, Ma'ale Adumim and many others outside the "green line," along with established Jerusalem neighborhoods and the Old City, home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis.

Following last week's meeting in Washington between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, Obama encouraged PA President Mahmoud Abbas to enter direct negotiations.

According to Palestinian sources, Obama promised to pressure Israel to refrain from "provocations," such as new construction in Judea, Samaria or Jerusalem.

Abbas said he would also seek approval from the Arab League before agreeing to direct negotiations.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu travels to Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh to meet with ailing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, reportedly to secure his backing with the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority for direct negotiations.

Meanwhile, Obama administration Middle East envoy George Mitchell returns to the region at the end of the week, along with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who arrives on Saturday. Ashton plans to visit the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

The concept of U.S.-mediated third-party negotiations began with the Obama administration after Netanyahu took office nearly 16 months ago.

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