Israeli officials accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of looking for excuses not to negotiate, after Abbas said Thursday he would only return to negotiations if Israel declared a complete settlement freeze for a defined period, during which the border issue would be resolved.
Abbas reportedly made those comments during a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah.
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One Israeli official said Abbas was “making sure he is high up on the tree. It is a pity he is entrenching himself in his preconditions, and we don’t understand the logic. It is almost as if he is searching for excuses not to negotiate.”
One of the issues reportedly holding up Washington’s letter to Jerusalem regarding US commitments in exchange for an additional 90-day settlement freeze is whether borders will be the focus of the first three months of negotiations.
The Palestinians want the border issue to be the focus of the start of the talks, arguing that once the borders were set it would be clear where Israel could and could not build. But Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s position is that border issues cannot be divorced from other core issues such as security arrangements and Israel’s demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people – something that would be tantamount to their accepting that the descendents of Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to return to Israel.
Netanyahu is also apparently unwilling to pledge to wrap up an agreement on borders during the time of a settlement freeze. And the US, for its part, is reportedly unwilling to commit in writing that this would be the last settlement freeze it would request, apparently wanting to keep open the option of another freeze if the border issue is not wrapped up during one 90- day freeze.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, said at a meeting with the Pensioners Union on Thursday in Tel Aviv that to move the negotiations forward, it may be necessary to change the composition of the coalition and bring in Kadima.
“There is a certain contradiction between the structure of the government and the chances of deepening the negotiations,” he said.
“We [the Labor Party] joined the government so it would go in that direction, and we are going that way but still not reaching the destination. If it turns out that this government in its current configuration can’t move forward in a diplomatic process, it will be necessary to weigh expanding it and creating a national unity government,” he said.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, meanwhile, took Netanyahu to task Thursday for not agreeing to a US demand to extend the settlement freeze.
Speaking to foreign correspondents, he said he wouldn’t have agreed to a settlement freeze in the first place, and that it was more important to focus on larger issues like final borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. But he said he would not turn down a request from Israel’s closest ally and endanger ties.
“If someone says that he agrees to 10 months of freezing and the president of the mightiest nation on earth and friendliest nation to Israel comes to you and says, ‘Please give me two [more] months, only two months,’ I mean, what could happen in two months?” he said. “I would say, ‘President, why two? Why not three? Take three!”
Olmert suggested that both Netanyahu and the Obama administration were wasting valuable time on a marginal issue.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, said the PA Information Ministry’s recent denial
of the link between the Jewish people and the Western Wall, reported
earlier this week in The Jerusalem Post, “calls into serious question
[the PA’s] intentions of reaching a peace agreement, the foundations of
which are coexistence and mutual recognition.”
Branding the Palestinian “study” on the matter “reprehensible and
scandalous,” Netanyahu said that “this is not the only instance in which
Palestinians are trying to distort historical facts in order to deny
the deep and historic link between the Jewish people and its homeland.”
He called on the PA leadership to disavow and condemn the document.