US 'ready' to unveil Middle East talks plan

By Wyre Davies
BBC News, Jerusalem

image captionGeorge Mitchell (l) has been trying to narrow the gap between Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas

The US is preparing to release a statement establishing details for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the BBC has learned.

Both the US government and other international Quartet members have been working towards a formula to persuade both sides to begin negotiations, after several months of indirect talks.

US special envoy George Mitchell has tried to establish enough trust to begin direct talks - with the ultimate aim of two states existing side by side in peace.

The BBC now understands that a statement will soon be issued, from the state department in Washington, which will include a timetable and other significant details that will serve as a basis for negotiations.

Serious disagreements

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has insisted for many weeks that he is ready to come to the negotiating table, but without preconditions.

But Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, wants guarantees that a future Palestinian state would be based on the 1967 ceasefire lines.

He has also demanded that all construction in illegal Jewish settlements would end before he sits down with the Israelis.

The international Quartet on the Middle East, consisting of the US, the European Union, the UN and Russia, has been working hard to narrow the gap.

The news that a deal may have been reached, which will allow Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas to start negotiations, is no guarantee of success.

Neither side has much room for manoeuvre and there are serious disagreements on many of the big issues.

There will have to be compromises and ground given by both sides if a new round of peace talks is to succeed where many previous attempts have failed.