Resuming negotiations now with the Palestinian Authority is a vital Israeli
strategic interest, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Saturday night,
after US Secretary of State John Kerry announced in Amman the previous night the
resumption of talks.
The resumption of talks is important “on its own” in
order to bring about an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the prime
minister said in a statement issued by his office.
“And it is important
in light of the challenges we face, especially from Iran and
Netanyahu said that he will be guided by two central aims in
conducting the negotiations: thwarting the creation of a bi-national state from
the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, and preventing the establishment of
an additional Iranian-backed terrorist state on Israel’s borders.
prime minister of Israel, I am committed, first and foremost, to the security of
the citizens of Israel and I will strongly uphold the security demands of the
State of Israel as well as its vital interests,” he said.
Kerry, who has
traveled to the region six times since March and invested an enormous amount of
time and energy on this issue, announced that the talks would resume “within the
next week or so” in Washington.
The announcement came at the end of a
dramatic day in which, following the PLO’s apparent rejection of a return to the
talks on Thursday night, Kerry met again with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb
Erekat in Amman on Friday, and then flew to meet PA President Mahmoud Abbas in
Ramallah. He spoke by phone throughout the day with Netanyahu.
a statement short on details, said that “we have reached an agreement that
establishes a basis for resuming direct final-status negotiations.”
would be the first such negotiations since Netanyahu and Abbas held talks for
less than a month in the fall of 2010.
Kerry said the agreement to
restart the talks is “still in the process of being formalized,” and any details
that appear in the media are merely “conjecture.”
He said that if “all
goes well,” Erekat, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of
negotiations with the Palestinians, and Netanyahu’s personal envoy to the talks,
Yitzhak Molcho, will travel to Washington to begin the talks.
that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead,” Kerry
said. “Today, however, I am hopeful. I’m hopeful because of the courageous
leadership shown by President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Both of them
have chosen to make difficult choices here, and both of them were instrumental
in pushing in this direction.”
Kerry did not read out terms of reference
for the resumption of talks, but what is expected to emerge in the coming days
is a US statement on the goals of the talks that will refer to the 1967 lines
with mutually agreed upon land swaps, and recognition of Israel as a Jewish
This type of wording is expected to allow both Israel to say that
it did not agree to using the pre-1967 lines as the baseline of talks, and the
Palestinians to say they did not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, something
that implies forgoing a “right of return” to Israel of Palestinian refugees and
Israeli officials denied Palestinian claims that
Netanyahu had agreed to a non-declared settlement freeze, and the release of
Palestinian prisoners before the talks began.
“The talks are taking place
without preconditions,” one Israeli official said. “There is no Israeli
commitment of making a statement that the basis for the talks will be the 1967
Nor is there a freeze on building in Judea and Samaria. And there
will not be a release of prisoners before the beginning of
Israeli officials said that some 80 prisoners will be released in
stages during the negotiations, and on the condition that the Palestinians do
not take unilateral steps in the UN. The officials said these prisoners have
been in jail between 20 and 28 years, and some of them are already up for
release soon. A group of the prisoners were arrested as minors, the officials
said, and have spent the majority of their lives behind bars.
officials stressed that no Israeli Arabs would be released.
Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz, meanwhile, told Israel Radio that some
“heavyweight prisoners” will be released.
The Palestinians have demanded
the release of some 103 security prisoners incarcerated for attacks carried out
before the 1993 Oslo Accords.
Steinitz said that the Palestinians had
agreed to stop efforts to gain UN statehood recognition during this
He said the talks would continue at least nine months.
talks are expected to be conducted in such a way that the Israeli and
Palestinian teams will come to an understanding on the core issues, which will
then be brought to Netanyahu and Abbas for their approval. Israeli official said
that any final agreement will be brought to the country in the form of a
Livni issued a statement with rare praise for Netanyahu,
saying she had “much respect for our prime minister for making the decisions
representing Israel’s important interests.”
She said that around the
negotiating table “we will maintain the national and security interests of
Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
She termed the restart of
negotiations as an end to “four years of political stagnation.”
restarting of negotiations was greeted by applause from the international
community, including UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon, who called on the sides
to show “courage and responsibility” moving forward.
Others to issue
words of praise were Quartet envoy Tony Blair, who played a vital role in
pushing the process forward, and the foreign ministers of Germany and
In the US, Congress reacted to Kerry’s policy announcement with
caution and praise, hopeful that the latest development might bring positive
news out of the region.
“Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is a
vital US national security concern. It can only happen through face-to-face
direct negotiations, and two states for two people living side by side in peace
and security remains the only formula,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New
Jersey), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Wilner in Washington contributed to this report.