Obama presses Abbas on direct talks

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama pressed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to begin direct talks with Israel.

A White House statement last Friday described a phone call between the two leaders.

"The President noted the positive momentum generated by the recent improvements on the ground in Gaza and in the West Bank, the restraint shown by both sides in recent months, and progress in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks," it said. "President Abbas reviewed ways to advance to direct talks in the near term, in order to reach an agreement that ends the conflict, and establishes an independent and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel."

Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met last week, have been pressing the Palestinians to advance from U.S.-brokered "proximity" talks to direct talks. Abbas has resisted, saying he wants to be sure core issues such as Jerusalem, borders and refugees are addressed at direct talks.

He also wants  a full settlement freeze before going to talks. Netanyahu has instituted a partial settlement freeze.

The White House statement added that special Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who has been brokering the talks, will return soon to the region.

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