A much-touted high-level meeting between Israelis and Palestinians fizzled into
a theatrical exchange of letters, when Palestinian Authority Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad failed to show up to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at
his Jerusalem home on Tuesday evening.
It would have been the first
face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since Netanyahu took office.
Netanyahu last spoke in person with a high-level Palestinian leader when he met
with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in September 2010.
The peace process has
been largely frozen since then, with the exception of some low-level talks that
occurred in Jordan in January.
Israel was alerted to Fayyad’s planned
absence prior to the meeting, but decided to move forward anyway.
Tuesday evening, Netanyahu hosted chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat and the head
of Palestinian intelligence Gen. Majad Faraj in his Jerusalem home for an
hour-and- a-half. Netanyahu’s personal envoy, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, was also
They shook hands for the camera and the atmosphere among them
was cordial. The two men delivered a letter to Netanyahu from Abbas, some
contents of which had already been leaked to the media in the days prior to its
Abbas’s letter demanded a halt to West Bank settlement
construction and Jewish building in east Jerusalem, and deplored Israel’s lack
of commitment to the peace process, officials said.
Netanyahu and his
office are now examining the letter. A preliminary reading, however, indicated
that the information falls along known lines and that little new information was
Netanyahu promised the Palestinian delegation that he would
send envoys with a written response in two weeks.
At the end of the
meeting, his office said, “Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to
achieving peace. Both sides hope that this exchange of letters will help find a
way to advance peace.”
Sources in Ramallah said that Fayyad decided to
pull out of the delegation because the meeting was taking place on the same day
that the Palestinians marked “Prisoner Day.”
The source said that Fayyad
thought it would be inappropriate for him to meet with Netanyahu on the same day
that hundreds of Palestinian prisoners went on a hunger strike in Israeli
Hamas and other Palestinian groups had criticized the planned
meeting, saying it was an “insult” to the prisoners and their
PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo, who was supposed to
join the delegation, also decided to stay away in the last minute, apparently
for the same reason.
Earlier, an Israeli official said Netanyahu would
reiterate his call for talks to resume without any preconditions and for a
meeting with Abbas.
During a visit to Cyprus, Foreign Minister Avigdor
Liberman said that Abbas was not interested in reaching a peace agreement with
Israel. The Palestinians, he said, spend time blaming Israel rather than working
to solve their own internal problems.
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Reuters contributed to this report.