Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met again on Thursday to come up with a package that would enable the continuation of the negotiations beyond their deadline in 11 days, though no breakthrough was reported.
US envoy Martin Indyk, who returned to Israel on Wednesday, once again mediated the talks.
The Israeli and Palestinian teams, headed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, respectively, also met on Sunday evening without Indyk, who flew to the US on Friday.
There are reportedly still wide gaps between the sides, with Israel insisting on the deportation of 14 Israeli Arabs to Gaza or abroad. The Palestinians are demanding that those 14 be among the 26 terrorists to be released as part of the deal that led to the restart of the negotiations in July.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, want to see a settlement freeze as part of the package to continue talks, and not just an Israeli commitment to “restrain” building in Judea and Samaria, though not in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line.
In the package that was on the table earlier this month, but which fell through at the last minute, Israel was to release the last batch of Palestinian prisoners, plus another 400 “without blood on their hands,” and commit to “restrain” settlement construction, though not in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem beyond the Green Line.
The Palestinians were to continue the talks for nine months past the current April 29 deadline, during which they would not apply for membership in international organizations, treaties and conventions. And the US was to release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
Although Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said earlier this week that this was no longer the proposal on the table, one official said it was clear the sides were discussing some kind of package to enable the continuation of the talks.
One new demand that the Palestinians have raised is that if the negotiations do continue, the first three months should focus on the issue of borders.
One Israeli official responded by saying that the Palestinians “want to talk about the core issues good for them – settlements and borders – but they refuse to be willing to discuss the core issues in which they will have to show flexibility: recognizing Israel’s legitimacy as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the issue of refugees, ending the conflict, security.”
The official said that while it was clear the Palestinians would “love to discuss the borders only, how could any government of Israel reach understandings on borders without knowing the characteristics of the state on the other side, whether it will end the conflict, be demilitarized, and really want to live in peace?” If the question is only one of borders, the official said, “then why is there no peace with Gaza, even though Israel withdrew from there to the 1967 lines.”