Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are to hold talks soon in what would be their first public meeting in more than two months, a senior official has said.
"There are preparations with the Israeli side to have a meeting between Saeb Erakat and Yitzhak Molcho in the next few hours or days," the senior Palestinian official told the AFP news agency on Tuesday.
The last time the two negotiators met publicly was on January 25 in Amman, Jordan, in what was the last of a series of five exploratory meetings aimed at finding a way back to direct negotiations, which ultimately ended without any progress.
The official's remarks confirmed a report in an Israeli newspaper that also said the two sides were planning to meet to discuss a letter that Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is preparing to hand to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
"Behind the scenes over the last two weeks, there have been contacts between Ramallah and Jerusalem over a letter which Abu Mazen [Abbas] is planning to send to Netanyahu in the coming days," wrote Haaretz's political commentator Barak Ravid on the paper's website.
"Last week, a secret meeting took place in Jerusalem between Saeb Erakat and Yitzhak Molho. The two are in phone contact from time-to-time, but the meeting was the first in two-and-a-half months."
During that meeting, Erakat "relayed the content of the letter... which at first included ultimatums as well as threats to dismantle the Palestinian Authority," he wrote, indicating that since then, the wording had been "diluted down and modified, partly due to strong US pressure".
Israeli officials refused to comment on reports of an imminent public meeting.
In January, the negotiators met for five rounds of talks, sponsored by the Middle East peacemaking "Quartet", which ended without any agreement to continue talking, or to return to direct negotiations.
The Palestinians have accused Israel of failing to present proposals on borders and security called for by the Quartet, which includes the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia.
Israel says it wants talks without preconditions, but the Palestinians have sought an Israeli settlement freeze and clear parameters for discussions before resuming direct negotiations.
Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen since September 2010 due to a dispute over illegal Israeli settlement building.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|