Palestinian leaders discussing Kerry proposal

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — President Mahmoud Abbas convened a special gathering of top Palestinian officials in the West Bank on Thursday for what could be a make-or-break decision on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest efforts to restart peace talks with Israel.

Kerry has not publicized his plan to jumpstart the talks. But a decision by the Arab League on Wednesday to support his proposals has raised speculation that the Palestinians will agree. Abbas traditionally has sought the blessing of his Arab brethren before making any major diplomatic initiative.

Kerry has been shuttling for months in search of a formula to allow resumption of talks after a nearly five-year break. Kerry, who is in neighboring Jordan, had a lengthy meeting with Abbas this week.

At Thursday’s gathering, Abbas was briefing top officials with the decision-making Palestine Liberation Organization on the talks. An announcement was expected afterward.

Ahead of the meeting, Kerry’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, played down expectations of a major breakthrough. “There are currently no plans for an announcement on the resumption of negotiations,” she told reporters traveling with Kerry in Amman.

Talks have been stalled since late 2008, with the status of Israeli settlements at the heart of the deadlock.

The Palestinians have demanded that Israel stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war that the Palestinians claim for a future state, before talks can resume. They also say Israel should agree that its pre-1967 lines should be the basis of a final border.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the Palestinian demands, saying talks should begin without preconditions.

The international community largely has backed the Palestinian position. The European Union announced this week it would stop providing research and cooperation grants to Israeli entities that operate in the occupied territories. Israeli leaders condemned the decision and have appealed to the EU not to follow through with the move.

Palestinian officials have said Kerry’s proposal will include restrictions on settlement construction, some sort of recognition of the 1967 lines, financial aid to the Palestinians, an Israeli release of some Palestinian prisoners and security guarantees to Israel.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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