At their next meeting, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will begin tackling the core issues that need to be resolved for a peace treaty, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Sunday.
During a speech in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas said that teams headed by ex-Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will begin discussion of six issues: Jerusalem, Israeli West Bank settlements, Palestinian refugees, borders, security and water resources.
"If we reach an agreement on all these issues, then we can say that we have reached a final agreement," Abbas said, adding that a peace treaty must resolve disputes over all the issues.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev confirmed that the negotiating teams would meet Monday, and that they received a mandate to begin discussions on the core issues.
Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to restart peace talks, frozen during seven years of violence, at a US-sponsored Mideast peace conference in November. Last week, before the arrival of US President George W. Bush, they told their negotiating teams to get down to discussing the core issues. Previous negotiations have broken down over these topics, as so far neither side has been willing to compromise enough to satisfy the other.
Olmert and Abbas pledged to make efforts to reach a peace accord this year, before Bush leaves office.
In his speech Sunday, Abbas said, "We told President Bush that we can't move ahead in negotiations while settlement activities are going on. We can't have negotiations while they are building houses all over."
Abbas criticized the Hamas-led Gaza regime for allowing rockets to be fired into Israel but said the rocket fire hurts the Palestinians more than they Israelis, who keep demanding that Abbas take action to stop it.
He said if Hamas relinquishes power in Gaza, he will begin talks with the Islamic militants, "even if the Americans reject that."