by Gur Salomon, Dave Bender
JERUSALEM, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) are expected to resume direct peace negotiations in the upcoming days or weeks, media reports in the region said on Sunday.
Local daily Ha'aretz quoted a senior White House official, who spoke with the newspaper over the weekend, as saying that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will announce the launch of direct talks with Israel in "a matter of days," perhaps as early as Monday.
A further strengthening to estimates that a renewal of the long- awaited direct negotiations is imminent was given by Saudi newspaper Okaz, who reported on Sunday that sources in the PNA have stated that direct talks will start next week in Cairo.
A similar announcement on the renewal of talks will be issued by the Quartet comprising the United States, the European Union ( EU), Russia and the UN, and is expected to call for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders within two years. It is also likely to include a frame of reference for the talks.
Despite a relatively long stagnation of the U.S.-led efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, the Americans and the international community have continued in recent days to exert considerable pressure on both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to launch direct negotiations.
A trilateral summit between Abbas, Jordanian King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was held in Cairo on Friday, during which the three leaders discussed, among other things, the possibility of direct talks.
Abbas had reportedly expressed concern that a continued Palestinian rejection of calls to directly negotiate with Israel may lead the U.S. and the EU to halt the transfer of funds to his government.
In a meeting held recently between Abbas and U.S. Middle East special envoy George Mitchell, the Palestinian leader demanded that the direct negotiations have a clear framework, a commitment by Israel to freeze settlement construction activity while they are being held and a reiteration of the Quartet's declaration in March, which called for an end to the occupation that began in 1967 and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Israel, for its part, is objecting to a Quartet announcement that will include preconditions for the launching of direct talks, especially a withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders and refraining from "provocative" construction in the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has publicly announced that construction in the West Bank will resume on Sept. 26 when Israel' s self-declared construction freeze will officially end, a decision which receives the support of his senior cabinet ministers.
"Israel is not willing to agree to any preconditions from the back door via a Quartet announcement that will serve as a basis for the negotiations," a senior official in Jerusalem was quoted by Ha'aretz as saying.
"As far as we know, the negotiations may begin in two days, but also in two weeks," he said.
"We are very interested in beginning direct talks (with the Palestinians) and think it's the right path to follow," a source at the prime minister's office, who declined to comment on any further questions, told Xinhua.