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Restart of talks uncertain as Palestinian prime minister skips Israeli meeting

Salam Fayyad did not attend a scheduled meeting Tuesday with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Other senior Palestinian officials delivered a letter to Netanyahu with a list of demands before talks can resume.

By Josef FedermanAssociated Press / April 17, 2012

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat during their meeting in Jerusalem April 17, in this picture released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO). A Palestinian delegation met Netanyahu on Tuesday, delivering a letter that detailed Palestinian grievances on the prospects for peace and reiterating a call to halt settlement building.

Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/REUTERS

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Jerusalem

The Palestinian prime minister pulled out of a planned meeting with Israel's leader on Tuesday, torpedoing what was set to be the highest-level talks between the sides in nearly two years.

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The meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attended by two lower level Palestinian officials, lasted less than an hour and ended with a brief joint statement pledging to seek peace. It signaled little progress was made.

Even before Salam Fayyad's pullout, both sides played down expectations for the meeting, which the Palestinians portrayed as a last-ditch effort to salvage peace talks before the U.S. presidential election season.

The statement said the Palestinians submitted a letter outlining their demands for resuming talks, and that Netanyahu had promised a response in two weeks.

"Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to reaching peace," the statement said. "The two sides hope that this exchange of letters will help find a way to advance peace."

The Palestinians were represented by Saeb Erekat, their chief negotiator, and a top security official, Majed Faraj. They gave no explanation for Fayyad's absence.

Fayyad told his colleagues that he was pulling out of the meeting because he had reservations about the letter's contents and was worried about public opposition to the meeting, said an official in his office. The official requested anonymity because the matter's sensitivity.

Erekat said after the meeting that Netanyahu had promised to "seriously consider" the Palestinian president's letter.

"We hope that the commitments on both sides will be honored," Erekat said. "The current status quo cannot be maintained."

Substantive negotiations collapsed more than three years ago, in large part over construction in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians say there can be no negotiations as long as Israel continues to build homes in territories they claim for their future state. Israel says talks should resume without preconditions.

The letter says Israel must freeze all settlement construction and accept its pre-1967 war boundaries as the basis for the borders of a future Palestine, with mutually agreed upon modifications, according to drafts of the document obtained by The Associated Press. Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza — the territories claimed by the Palestinians — in the 1967 Mideast war.

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