by Saud Abu Ramadan
GAZA, Aug. 2 (Xinhua) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday rejected a U.S. request to set a date for moving to the direct peace negotiations with Israel without defining an international peace reference for it, a senior Palestinian official said.
Wassel Abu Yousef, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) official, told Xinhua that David Hale, deputy of U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell, asked President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting earlier on Monday in Ramallah about setting a date for launching the direct talks.
"President Abbas informed Hale that he rejects setting any dates or appointments and reaffirmed the Palestinian position that settlement must be halted and a peace preference has to be defined before moving to direct negotiations," said Abu Yousef.
He said that the U.S.-Palestinian contacts and consultations " are still going on to find a way to push forward the efforts of Senator George Mitchell to ensure the peace process, adding that Mitchell is scheduled to arrive in the region within the coming few days.
The United States and Israel are pressuring on the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to move from the four-month proximity talks, sponsored by the United States, to the direct peace talks with Israel. The peace talks have been stalled between the two sides since December 2008.
Meanwhile, the PLO executive committee, which held a meeting in Ramallah chaired by Abbas, announced in a statement issued after the meeting that it is still sticking to the demand of defining a peace reference to the talks and halting settlement activities before launching any direct talks with Israel.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, the committee's secretary general, told a news conference at the end of the meeting that the PLO executive committee concluded that the only way to ensure the direct negotiations "is to define a reference for the talks and the complete cessation of settlement activities."
"Our stance of halting settlement, mainly in East Jerusalem, and defining a reference for the peace talks are the guarantees that would ensure the negotiations," Abed Rabbo said, adding " without these guarantees, the talks would be absurd and would immediately collapse."
He added that the PLO executive committee "welcomed the decision of the Arab League (AL) Committee on the Peace Process, which decided in Cairo on Thursday to give the Palestinians the opportunity to decide when to start the direct talks with Israel."
"The AL committee decision and the PLO decision are similar, mainly in the issues of defining a reference for the direct talks, the complete cessation of settlement activities, mainly in East Jerusalem, and the establishment of the independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967."
Abed Rabbo announced that within the upcoming few weeks, "there will be more Palestinian contacts and debates, mainly during the PLO Central Council meeting which will be held on September. The PCC is the highest body that usually convenes to make decisions on substantial Palestinian issues.
Meanwhile, an aide to President Abbas, revealed on Monday that the PNA is considering holding a three-way meeting that joins Israeli, Palestinian and United States officials to find a reference for launching the direct peace talks.
"Holding a three-way meeting on a low profile is one of the presented suggestions that the PNA is considering," Nemer Hamad told Palestinian Radio "Voice of Palestine," adding "The Palestinians would welcome a deal with Israel that ends the occupation and establish the Palestinian state."
Earlier on Monday, the Israeli Ha'aretz Daily reported that the U.S. administration is holding contacts with both Israel and the Palestinians to hold a three-way meeting on a low profile to seek a reference and a timetable for the direct negotiations between Israel and the PNA.
The daily reported that in case the PNA accepts the U.S. proposal, the meeting will be held next week, with the participation of U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell, Yitzhak Molkho, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
"If Israel accepts to halt settlement, recognize a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and solving the refugees' issue, we will be happy to have such a deal with the Israeli government," said Hamad, adding "If this doesn't happen, we won't give Israel the excuse that we are an obstacle for peace."
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