Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed on the “core issues” that will be discussed during their direct talks, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said over the weekend.

Erekat claimed that PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed at their meeting in Washington on Thursday that the peace talks would be resumed from the point where they were stopped two years ago under then-prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Netanyahu, however, has said repeatedly that he was not bound by concessions that Olmert offered, and the Palestinians rejected.

“We have reached agreement on the agenda of the direct talks,” Erekat said. “We have also reached agreement on a timeline for a temporary framework agreement – 12 months.”



Erekat said that the final-status issues that the sides have agreed to discuss during this period include Jerusalem, borders, refugees, settlements, water, security and prisoners held in Israeli jails.

He added that defining the future borders of a Palestinian state would be the first issue on the negotiating table. “This is the time for decision-making, not negotiations,” he said.

“What is needed is agreement on the principles of the finalstatus issues. When the leaders and decision-makers agree on the principles, the negotiators will then start discussing the details.

Erekat revealed that the Palestinians have set up 14 committees consisting of more than 220 experts to prepare for the negotiations.

The Palestinians were encouraged by what they heard from the US administration at the launch ceremony for the direct talks last week, he said.

“The Americans told us that they plan to play an active and major role in the peace talks,” he said, noting that it was still unclear whether US officials would be present at the negotiating table.

Erekat and other PA officials warned that the talks would be suspended if the government resumed construction in the settlements.

“If they continue with settlement construction, they will close the door to negotiations,” he cautioned.

“Settlements and peace can’t go together.”

The Palestinians hoped that Israel would do what it did in Sinai and the Gaza Strip, when it evacuated settlements, Erekat said.

“Israel destroyed settlements in the Gaza Strip and Sinai, and we hope that this experience will be repeated for the third time in the West Bank,” he said.

Israeli officials would not confirm any of Erekat’s claims, saying that it was agreed in Washington that the content of the talks would not be leaked. Netanyahu, when asked in Washington why he was saying nothing about the content of the negotiations, told journalists, “You want headlines, I want an agreement.”

Israeli officials did confirm, however, that a meeting between the negotiating teams would take place sometime this week, although who would be involved in the talks was not revealed. Abbas and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on September 14 in Sharm e-Sheikh.

Netanyahu also said in Washington that the goal of the talks was to reach a framework agreement within a year, meaning an agreement in principle on the core issues between the leaders, with the negotiating teams left to work out all the details.

In private meetings, Netanyahu has dismissed as secondary domestic political concerns, saying that what was important was “to reach an agreement I believe in.”

If such an agreement can be reached, he has said, he will stand before the Israeli public, and the whole world, and support it.

While saying that there would be a comprehensive public debate on any agreement, he has not said what exactly that meant, and whether there would be a referendum or perhaps an early election.

Netanyahu is expected to update the cabinet and Likud ministers on Sunday, and to brief each minister individually.

He has already spoken to Interior Minister and Shas chairman Eli Yishai from Washington.

Netanyahu has invited all 74 coalition MKs and their spouses to his Jerusalem residence for a festive pre-Rosh Hashana toast on Monday evening. He is expected to be grilled when he meets on Tuesday night with a group of veteran Likud central committee hawks from the Tagar movement.

Likud hawk MK Danny Danon condemned the prime minister’s leftward shift.

“If the public wanted a Palestinian state within a year, they would have voted for Kadima and not Likud,” Danon said.

On the other hand, Deputy Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Orit Noked (Labor) praised the prime minister at a Shabbat cultural event in Beersheba.

“Netanyahu will be like Rabin,” Noked said. “I believe that Bibi has made a decision in his heart to initiate big changes.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, on a visit to Cyprus, said on Friday he was not sure “emotional conflicts” such as Jerusalem, refugees and settlements could be resolved. Rather the focus should be on “security and economic issues,” he said.

Lieberman, who has voluntarily sidelined himself from the discussions, is expected to say more on the matter at a Rosh Hashana toast he will host at an Israel Beiteinu event on Sunday.

Erekat’s comments came as the PA continued to send to Palestinians conflicting messages about the peace process.

Contrary to its earlier promises, the PA has not yet addressed the Palestinian public with the same message it has been dispatching to Israelis with the help of US funding. The PA leadership seems to be more concerned with defending its decision to enter into direct talks with Israel than to convince the Palestinians to support the renewed negotiations.

Last week, a PA official said the PA leadership was planning to launch a US-financed campaign to persuade Palestinians to support the peace process.

However, the campaign has thus far been restricted to addressing Israelis by presenting a number of top PA leaders as Israel’s “partners for peace.”

PA negotiators who were in Washington last week for the launch of the direct talks spoke with some optimism about “understandings” and “agreements” that were achieved in meetings between the two sides.

However, other Palestinians representing the PA sent a completely different message to the Palestinian public: Israel does not want peace.

This message has over the past few days become the main theme in the PA-controlled media’s reporting. According to this message, the PA leadership was forced to agree to direct talks only because of heavy pressure and threats from the US administration, the EU and some Arab governments.

The PA media highlighted statements made by Abbas in Washington to the effect that continued construction in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem neighborhoods would lead to the collapse of the peace talks.

Abbas’s decision to negotiate with Israel unconditionally has drawn strong and unprecedented criticism from almost all Palestinian factions, including Fatah.

The decision has also exacerbated tensions between the PA and Hamas, which has accused Abbas and his team of betraying the national interests of the Palestinians and called for overthrowing his government in the West Bank.

With a few exceptions, the PA-funded newspapers have been ignoring the voices of the Palestinian opposition to the talks. They have also been ignoring the PA’s massive security crackdown on Hamas sympathizers in the West Bank – an operation that began following last Tuesday’s shooting attack that killed four Israelis near Kiryat Arba and that has seen the arrest of more than 300 Palestinians.

Political analysts and newspaper commentators affiliated with the PA continued to raise doubts regarding Israel’s true intentions vis-a-vis the peace process.

“Those who were expecting the Washington summit to bring surprises have been shocked,” said Hani al-Masri, a political analyst who works for the PA’s Ministry of Information.

“Netanyahu’s speech and statements have shown that the talks are being launched with no hope, because they were not preceded by a halt of settlement construction. The talks that were launched in Washington don’t carry anything new, because Israel is in full control of the negotiations.”

Another PA-affiliated analyst, Adel Abdel Rahman, wrote in the Ramallah-based Al-Hayat al-Jadida daily that “despite Netanyahu’s repeated statements about his desire to achieve peace with the Palestinians and that the Likud is capable of making peace, the reality suggests the opposite.

“The measures on the ground emphasize that Israel and its right-wing radical government is not prepared for peace and the two-state solution.”

The writer said that if Netanyahu was really serious about making peace, he should stop demanding that the PA leadership recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and should withdraw to the pre-1967 lines, including from east Jerusalem.

Al-Quds, the largest Palestinian daily, said Palestinians were very skeptical about Israel’s intentions, especially in light of the government’s measures on the ground.

Referring to the approval of new housing projects in Givat Ze’ev and Gilo, the semi-official newspaper, which reflects the views of the PA leadership, said that such “developments mean that Netanyahu, who talked in Washington about painful concessions for peace, is still far from seriously moving forward with the peace process.”

Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres met over the weekend with Arab League Secretary- General Amr Moussa in Cernobbio, Italy, on the sidelines of an economic meeting.

Peres called the negotiations in Washington last week a “promising” start.

Moussa, according to an Associated Press report, predicted this would be the last round of talks between Israel and the Palestinians and that the Arabs were ready for full peace with Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the territories, including east Jerusalem.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.



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