Palestinian teams hold 'difficult' talks

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Jerusalem, Nov 12: Israeli and Palestinian officials resumed preparatory talks on Monday for a US-hosted conference, a day after Palestinian negotiators were stopped at an Israeli checkpoint and a session was called off.

An Israeli government official gave no details of the talks, other than to say that they had ended for the day.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat described the session as ''difficult'' and said the officials had not yet begun drafting a joint document expected to be presented at the conference on Palestinian statehood in Annapolis, Maryland in late November.

''The problem over the content of the document has not yet been resolved,'' Erekat told Reuters, adding that the negotiating teams planned to meet again tomorrow.

Deepening diplomatic disagreement ahead of the conference, Erekat publicly rebuffed Israel's demand that it be recognised as a Jewish state.

While recognising the right of Israel to exist, Erekat said: ''The Palestinians won't accept Israel as a Jewish state.'' Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in a broadcast appearance before his parliamentary faction, reaffirmed his vision of mutual Israeli-Palestinian recognition but indicated it may not come up at Annapolis.

Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, declined to comment directly on Erekat's remarks, but said that recognition of Israel's identity was key to any peace process.

''This is not something that is up for discussion. It is a basic creed of the state of Israel,'' she said. ''Our country is a Jewish democratic state. We expect to be recognised as such by any country that would expect to have a peace treaty with us.'' A meeting scheduled for yesterday was scrapped after chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurie and other members of his team, travelling from the occupied West Bank, were stopped at an Israeli checkpoint on their way to the venue inside Israel.

An aide to Qurie said the Palestinian negotiators later told Israel they wanted to transfer the talks to another country.

The negotiators have been meeting regularly ahead of the conference in Annapolis in the last week of November, but have been struggling to narrow differences over the joint document.

Both sides have said they want talks on Palestinian statehood and peace to follow the event.


Reuters>

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