Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas poured cold water on rising
expectations that restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was just around
the corner, reiterating on Tuesday his demand for a full settlement construction
freeze and the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Abbas, during a meeting
with Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Torgeir Larsen in Ramallah, said peace
talks with Israel should be based on the two-state solution and the
establishment of a Palestinian state “on the [pre- ]1967 borders with Jerusalem
as its capital.” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has consistently rejected
calls for a complete settlement freeze and for stating that the pre- 1967 lines
would be the baseline for the talks.
Abbas’s remarks were his first since
media reports Monday claiming he had agreed to return to the negotiating table
with Israel unconditionally. PA officials in Ramallah described the reports as
“test balloons” by Israel to cause “confusion” among Palestinians ahead of US
Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival in the region.
Kerry is scheduled
to arrive on Thursday for his fifth visit in four months, in an effort to push
the sides back into talks. Kerry is scheduled to arrive on Thursday for his fifth visit in four months, in
an effort to push the sides back into talks.
Despite Abbas’s comments
Tuesday, one Western diplomatic official said avoiding international blame for
not being willing to negotiate is driving Palestinians and Israelis closer to
the negotiating table.
“Both sides are very much aware that it will hurt
them if they are blamed for the failure,” he said.
Amid the swirl of
recent reports that Abbas would drop some of his preconditions for entering
negotiations, and that Netanyahu was willing to release some Palestinian
prisoners as a goodwill gesture and perhaps freeze settlement construction
beyond the West Bank security barrier, one Israeli official said it was too
early to say whether this Kerry visit would result in a
“Israel is ready to take concrete steps to bolster the
process,” the official said. “We want to see mutual confidencebuilding measures,
and it is not clear at this time whether the Palestinians want to reengage, and
that if they do, if they are committed to it seriously.”
according to the official, is in regular, direct contact with Kerry.
official said Israel was concerned that Abbas might enter negotiations for a
couple of weeks, primarily to deflect international pressure, but then walk away
from them and blame Israel for “intransigence.”
The official said this
was what happened in September 2010, when Abbas negotiated with Netanyahu for
less than a month at the tail end of Israel’s 10-month settlement freeze, and
again in 2012 when the Palestinians walked away from low-level talks in
The concern is that after leaving the talks, Abbas would again
initiate unilateral steps in an international forum, including at the
International Criminal Court in The Hague. Netanyahu echoed these concerns in
comments he made at the outset of a meeting on Tuesday with visiting Georgian
Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
On Tuesday in Jerusalem, however,
chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, “Those who worry about the court
must stop committing crimes.” He spoke at a Jerusalem event for young Israeli
and Palestinian adults, hosted by the Palestine-Israel Journal and the
Netherlands Representative Office in Ramallah.
Netanyahu, he added,
“wants a cost-free occupation. I have a message on behalf of [Abbas]. The
status quo is not sustainable.”
The Palestinians, he said, were ready to
return to the negotiating table “yesterday,” but before they sit down to talk,
they must know what the agenda is.
“What is it that I will be discussing
with my Israeli counterparts. I do not want anyone to lecture me, I do not want
anyone to stand up and say I cannot negotiate ’67, I cannot negotiate Jerusalem,
I cannot negotiate refugees, I cannot negotiate anything, and then after 30
minutes of conditioning the negotiations, come here, boy, we know what is best
Israel, Erekat said, wants to dictate terms, such as there must
be settlement blocs, but it does not want to negotiate.
If Israel thwarts
Kerry’s efforts, Erekat warned, than the Palestinians would continue to pursue
statehood recognition efforts at the United Nations, by asking to be parties to
major UN conventions and treaties.
“We will be joining all organizations
in the United Nations,” he said.
Erekat said Kerry was doing a “fantastic
job” and that he supported his efforts.
“His failure is a non-option for
us. His success means our freedom,” he said.
“No one benefits more from
Kerry’s success than Palestinians and no one loses more,” Erekat
But instead of taking steps to support the process in advance of
Kerry’s arrival, Netanyahu travels to the Barkan settlement to dedicate a new
school, Erekat said.
The ministers in Netanyahu’s government are
eulogizing the two-state solution, Erekat added.
“No one should doubt
that Palestine will be back on the geographic maps,” he said.
in talks with Ivanishvili, said: “Our fervent hope is for peace, a genuine peace
that can be achieved only through direct negotiations without
“We’re ready to enter such negotiations. I hope the
Palestinians are, too. And I have to say that our goal is not just to enter and
put a ‘V’ (check the box) to show that we’ve begun negotiations,” the prime
“Our goal is to persist in the negotiations, to engage in
them consistently over a serious period of time in order to try to grapple with
all the issues, and come to an agreement that resolves the fundamental issues in
the conflict,” he said, adding that these types of negotiations will require
time, determination and a systematic approach.
“I hope that this is what
the Palestinians will have,” he said. “That’s our approach. I hope it’s
On the eve of Kerry’s visit, The Washington Post reported
on Tuesday that the short-term US goal is peace talks without “preconditions,”
and that the larger goal is “a fast agreement – ideally, within a year or so –
that draws permanent borders on the West Bank.”
Ministers on the Right
and Left expressed opposition on Tuesday to Netanyahu making gestures aimed at
bringing the Palestinians to the negotiating table, such as releasing terrorists
from prison or freezing construction in Judea, Samaria or
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) said
that in his successful business career, he never had to pay anyone to negotiate
Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid),
who is considered the cabinet’s most dovish minister, said he also opposed such
gestures on principle.
“Freezing construction in the past was a mistake
that caused great harm to the residents of Judea and Samaria, and did not help
advance the diplomatic process at all,” Transportation Minister Israel Katz
(Likud) said.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.