The Palestinian Authority is willing to talk with Israel, but won’t hold formal
negotiations without a settlement freeze, according to statements PA President
Mahmoud Abbas made on Friday.
But Abbas cautioned that Israel must meet
two demands for the informal talks – release more prisoners and allow for the
import of weapons for the PA security forces in the West Bank.
said that if [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu agrees to release prisoners and
allows us to import weapons for the police, we will launch dialogue.
does not mean that we would negotiate,” Abbas said according to Wafa, the PA’s
official news agency.
He spoke as the international community continues
to work for the resumption of direct negotiations.
US State Department
spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington on Friday that “we are
continuing to work hard with both parties,” adding that “this is hard, difficult
work. We are doing what we can to support getting them back to the
Nuland said that the US special envoy to the Middle East peace
process is due back in the region soon.
Israelis and Palestinians held
informal talks in Amman in January that were followed by an exchange of letters
between Abbas and Netanyahu in the spring. But the two leaders have not met face
to face since September 2010.
On Saturday night, an Israeli official said
Netanyahu was ready for the immediate resumption of talks without
“In the framework of these talks, all the issues that
separate Israelis from Palestinians will be on the table,” he said. “Both
sides can raise their concerns.”
“Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed
his readiness to meet Palestinian [Authority] President Abbas anywhere, any
time,” the official said.
He added that if the Palestinians were not
ready for high-level talks, Israel was willing to hold a dialogue with them at a
As to Abbas’s preconditions for even informal talks, the
Israeli official said that he was not aware of any weapons shortage among
Palestinian security personnel in the West Bank.
“Just two weeks ago, as
a confidence-building measure, Israel released the bodies of dead terrorists for
burial in the Palestinian territories,” the official said.
“I would hope
that the Palestinians would appreciate that gesture and respond in
Abbas on Friday, however, supported his demand for Israel to halt
He said that the cessation of settlement
construction is not a precondition for returning to the negotiating table, but
an obligation that is mentioned in more than one international document and agreement.
“We say that a freeze of
construction in the settlements would pave the way for the resumption of the
negotiations,” Abbas said, after meeting with newly elected French President
François Hollande in Paris.
Abbas reiterated his threat to go back to the
United Nations and ask for recognition of a Palestinian state if efforts to
revive the peace talks fail.
“We will surely go to the General Assembly
to obtain the status of non-member state,” he added. He predicted that such a
move would be met with obstacles by various parties, but did not
“The ball is now in Netanyahu’s court,” Abbas
“The moment he agrees to stop settlement construction and accepts
the borders of the two states, we will go directly to the negotiations to
discuss the remaining final-status issues.”
He made his comments just two
days after Netanyahu announced that his government planed to market 851 new
homes in West Bank settlements.
On Friday, Germany added its voice to
those who had condemned the plan on Wednesday and Thursday, including France,
the US and the UN.
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke in
Berlin said that the new construction ran counter to all efforts to relaunch the
peace talks. He also attacked Netanyahu’s argument that the construction was an
appropriate response to a High Court of Justice mandate to remove five apartment
buildings in the Ulpana outpost.
“The eviction or relocation of outposts
– as it has been announced in the past few days – does not legitimize an
increase in settlement construction elsewhere,” he said.
official said in response that the international reaction was not
“This disagreement between us and the Europeans is not new,”
the official said.
He stressed that, except for the units in the Kiryat
Arba settlement, the rest of the planned construction was in settlement blocs
that Israel expected to retain in any final-status agreement with the
Palestinians, and asked how such a move would impact the peace
Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz told Channel 2 on Saturday night that
he intends to meet with Abbas to try to get the peace process off the
Advancing the peace process was one of the four issues that
served as the basis for the coalition agreement between Likud and
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On mocked Mofaz, saying that after
Netanyahu’s plan for 851 new settlers homes in the West Bank, “talks between
Mofaz and Abbas will help negotiations like cups of wind help the
Meanwhile, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on
Saturday that Egypt is making efforts to resume the peace talks between the
Palestinians and Israel.
Erekat reiterated the PA’s conditions for
resuming the talks: a complete cessation of settlement construction and
recognition of the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state
He said that Egypt has long acted as a mediator in the peace
negotiations, while at the same time supporting the Palestinian
The chief negotiator denied that secret talks were already
taking place with Israel.
He called on the Obama administration to stop
dealing with Israel “as a country above the law” and warned that construction in
the settlements would destroy the peace process.
Erekat’s remarks came in
response to a report in the London- based Al-Hayat newspaper, which quoted a
senior government official in Cairo as saying that Egypt would not stop backing
the Palestinians in their effort to declare a state, regardless of who wins the
The official said that the Rafah border crossing
would not be closed to Palestinians and Egypt would not “allow a siege against
the Gaza Strip.”
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.