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In last minute hitch, Palestinian prime minister pulls out of meeting with Israeli leader
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) ' Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad pulled out of a planned meeting with the Israeli leader on Tuesday, torpedoing what was set to be the highest-level talks between the sides in nearly two years.
Fayyad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were set to meet Tuesday evening in what the Palestinians portrayed as a last-ditch effort to salvage peace talks before the U.S. election season. But shortly before the meeting was to start, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that only he and a Palestinian security official, Majed Faraj, would attend.
"We are on our way," he said, giving no explanation for Fayyad's absence.
Officials on both sides played down expectations ahead of the meeting, where Fayyad had been expected to submit a letter from his boss, President Mahmoud Abbas, outlining Palestinian demands for restarting talks. Israeli officials said Netanyahu would accept the letter from whoever arrived.
Substantive negotiations collapsed more than three years ago, in large part over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians say there can be no negotiations as long as Israel continues to build in occupied 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.
Abbas has said in recent days the letter also accuses Israel of undermining the Palestinian Authority, his autonomy government that rules in parts of the West Bank.
Speaking to reporters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Abbas said he was hopeful for progress.
"We will tell (Netanyahu) that he should commit to stop settlements and to recognize the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and then we will return to the negotiating table," he said. "He has intensified the settlements and the solution was to send him the letter in which we stress the status quo cannot continue, and we can't accept it forever."