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Obama calls Abbas as talks begin

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the outset of renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks.

"The President congratulated President Abbas on the start of Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks," a White House statement said Tuesday. "He reiterated his strong support for the establishment of an independent, viable Palestinian state living in peace and security with Israel."

The White House did not say if Obama made a similar call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama spoke with Netanyahu early last week, before talks were re-launched, however.

Obama called on the sides "to move from proximity talks to direct negotiations as soon as possible in order to reach an agreement on permanent status issues."

Israel wants direct talks; the Palestinians want them only if they include permanent status issues such as borders, Jerusalem and refugees.

Obama also "urged that President Abbas do everything he can to prevent acts of incitement or delegitimization of Israel," the statement said, "and said he would "hold both sides accountable for actions that undermine trust during the talks."

Previous Obama administration statements have suggested that violations would include Israeli building in eastern Jerusalem and PA incitement.

Obama said he hopes to see Abbas at the White House "soon."

Also Tuesday, the Quartet — the grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations that guides Middle East peace talks — issued a statement welcoming the renewed talks and calling them "a significant step toward direct, bilateral negotiations and comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on the establishment of an independent and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its neighbors."

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