Abbas to meet Israeli vice PM

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet with Israeli Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz on Sunday.

Palestinian and Israeli flags. Picture: EWN

RAMALLAH - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet with Israeli Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz on Sunday, a Palestinian official said, in the highest-level meeting between the sides since peace talks broke down in 2010.

"There will be a meeting on Sunday between President Abbas and Mr. Mofaz. This comes after a request for a meeting from Mofaz," Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat told Voice of Palestine Radio on Thursday.

A spokesman for Mofaz would not confirm or deny that a meeting had been arranged, but he did say there was ongoing contact with Abbas' office toward setting up such an event.

Mofaz told reporters this month that he intended to meet Abbas "to examine ways to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians".

However, few expect any progress in the long-frozen peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians ahead of the U.S. presidential elections in November.

"We do not want to raise expectations or lower them. This is not a negotiation meeting. The one responsible for negotiations is the (Israeli) prime minister as well as the official negotiating teams," Erekat said.

He added that the meeting would take place in the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

Mofaz, head of Israel's centrist Kadima party, joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition in May to form one of the biggest coalitions in Israeli history, a move that commentators said could give Netanyahu a freer hand to seek peace with the Palestinians.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in late 2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement building in the West Bank, and Palestinians have demanded a halt to the construction before talks resume.

Israel says the settlements issue should be resolved in negotiations and rejects any pre-conditions for talks.