Ehud Barak and Salam Fayyad 311 ap.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
In a sign that the deep chill between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government and the Palestinian Authority may be thawing, Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced Wednesday – ahead of Netanyahu’s visit next week to Washington – that he will be meeting PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in a matter of days.
The meeting, which Barak announced after meeting visiting US envoy George Mitchell, will be one of only a very few public high-profile meetings between members of Netanyahu’s government and the PA since Netanyahu became prime minister in March 2009.
Asserting that this was not the first time they would be meeting, Barak said his discussion with Fayyad would center on the situation on the ground, security cooperation and coordination, and economic issues.RELATED:Barak, Mitchell to discuss direct
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“There is a great deal of progress in building up internal Palestinian security forces,” Barak said, adding that together with the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), a much better security situation than in the past had been created in Judea and Samaria.
Barak said that both sides would bring complaints about the other, and that Israel would raise the issue of the PA’s boycott of settlement-made products, preventing Palestinian workers from working in the settlements, incitement, and Palestinian actions against Israel in various international forums.
A PA official said the meeting would focus on day-to-day matters concerning the Palestinians, including Israel’s decision to revoke the Israeli-issued ID cards of four Hamas politicians from east Jerusalem, and Israel’s plans to demolish Arab houses in the city.
The official insisted the meeting did not have any political implications and was only intended to “alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian population.”
He explained that low-level meetings between the two sides had never stopped, despite the PA’s refusal to resume direct peace talks with Israel. Nevertheless, this will be the highest-level public meeting between the two sides in months.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, said after meeting Mitchell that “a main part” of his scheduled talks with US President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday would be “how to start direct peace talks” right away. Netanyahu and Obama are expected to issue statements to the press, something they did not do the last two times they met, and then have a working dinner. Netanyahu is also scheduled to meet Vice President Joe Biden.
“I think it’s time to put aside posturing,” Netanyahu said, standing alongside Mitchell. “It’s time to put aside preconditions. It’s time to get on with direct talks – formal direct talks for peace. And I call on President Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] to come to Jerusalem. I’m prepared to go to Ramallah. I think that this is the only way that we’ll solve the intricate problems that we’re discussing between us that I think can only be resolved substantively if we actually sit down, face one another in the same place and actually engage in serious deliberations for a solution.”
The Prime Minister’s Office has not, however, given any indication in
recent days whether Netanyahu will bring any new ideas to Washington
aimed at finding a way to restart the direct talks. One idea that has
reportedly been discussed is that in exchange for a Palestinian
agreement to enter direct talks immediately, Netanyahu would extend the
10-month settlement construction moratorium set to expire at the end of
September. The Prime Minister’s Office has not confirmed these reports.
Mitchell, meanwhile, praised Netanyahu for changing the policy on what
goods are allowed into Gaza. Meeting Netanyahu after a visit to Kerem
Shalom to see one of the border crossings into Gaza, Mitchell said, “I
had a good visit at Kerem Shalom today, and we appreciate the changes
that have been made – there’s been a great deal of progress in terms of
permitting additional goods into Gaza, and I was assured by your people
there that whatever the demand is, the capacity will be there to meet
it.” Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.