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Palestinians: Israel must agree on borders

Kerry has been shuttling for months in search of a formula to allow resumption of talks for the first time since 2008. Israeli settlements remain at the heart of the deadlock.

By Mohammed DaraghmehAssociated Press / July 18, 2013

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, July 18. Abbas convened a special gathering of top Palestinian officials for what could be a make-or-break decision on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest efforts to relaunch peace talks with Israel.

Majdi Mohammed/AP

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RAMALLAH, West Bank

A stormy, high-level meeting of senior Palestinian leaders called to discuss US Secretary of State John Kerry's latest peace proposal ended with a decision early Friday to demand guarantees that Israel agree on the general border of a future Palestinian state, officials said.

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The demand casts a cloud of uncertainty over months of US mediation efforts because Israel is wary of agreeing to preconditions, arguing it has not led to successful peace talks in the past. Palestinian officials said they wanted guarantees to ensure peace talks would lead to fruition.

Hoping to push Israelis and Palestinians toward talks, US President Barack Obama asked Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to work with Kerry "to resume negotiations with Palestinians as soon as possible," according to a statement released by the White House late Thursday.

After two separate meetings, Palestinian officials said they decided to send top negotiator Saeb Erekat to meet with Kerry "and inform him that Palestinians want guarantees regarding the general border," said Wasel Abu Yussef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, who was in the meeting.

He was referring to Israel's de facto border that separates the Jewish state from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories that Israel conquered in the 1967 Mideast war, alongside the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians claim those territories for their future state, with modifications reached through agreed "land swaps" that would see major Jewish settlement blocks built in the West Bank becoming part of Israel proper, in exchange for territories elsewhere.

Abu Yussef said Erekat would also ask for more clarifications from Kerry on what Israel expects from negotiations.

He said Palestinians did not want to reject Kerry's efforts to restart negotiations outright. Another official in the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity, said they felt pressure from Palestinians to not restart negotiations if they could not be seen producing substantive outcomes.

One sign that Palestinian officials are open to talks: They did not bring up their often-repeated demand that Israel stop building in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem before talks could resume.

The anonymous Palestinian official said they had decided, so far, not to make the demand this time. He said if Israel agreed on a general border route before negotiations began, it would delegitimize Jewish settlement building in areas expected to be part of a Palestinian state.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas convened the two meetings beginning Thursday with his advisors after a lengthy meeting with Kerry earlier in the week. While Kerry has not publicized details of his plan, the Arab League's decision Wednesday to endorse his proposal raised speculation that the Palestinians would agree. Abbas traditionally has sought the blessing of his Arab brethren before making any major diplomatic initiative.

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