There is no chance for serious peace talks as long as the Palestinians are internationalizing the conflict, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Monday following a meeting last week between Israeli and Palestinian officials in Amman.
Hotovely, who was discussing a meeting between Interior Minister Silvan Shalom and PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, said Shalom did not tell her about the meeting in advance.
“Let’s just say I don’t think the dove of peace will fly out from that meeting,” she said.
“He can do what he wants. It’s a free country.”
Sources in Shalom’s office said the meeting was in the works for some time, and followed a phone call last week, the first in more than a year, between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the occasion of Id al-Fitr.
Although no details emerged from the meeting, Shalom’s office said he hopes it would be the first in a series of discussions.
Shalom is Netanyahu’s point-man on negotiations with the Palestinians, and a meeting such as this would not have taken place without the premier’s consent.
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations broke down in April 2014, when the talks brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry floundered. They have not been resumed since.
Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, the former foreign minister, said he did not know what happened in the Shalom-Erekat meeting, but that “the Palestinian track is irrelevant for us, just as Abbas is irrelevant for us.”
Liberman said Israel has to work toward a regional agreement that the Palestinians will be a part of, but that his party will “oppose any direct accord with Palestinians, because it will only make things worse, not better.”
An Israeli withdrawal from the West bank, he said, would lead to “Kassams on the Knesset.”
Shalom, at the Herzliya Conference in June, called for a conference of moderate states in the region that will focus on “peace and economics.” “If the Palestinians are serious and are prepared to sit down for real negotiations, I pledge to them that they will find in Israel a real partner,” he said. “I call on the Palestinians to renew negotiations without preconditions, and the sooner the better.”
US State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington he was not aware of the meeting.
The Palestinian Authority on Monday refused to comment on reports of a meeting between Shalom and Erekat.
The PLO negotiator, who is currently visiting Egypt, also refused to comment.
A senior Fatah official in Ramallah, who asked not to be identified, however, confirmed that Shalom and Erekat had spoken. He added that this was the first meeting between a member of the new Israeli government and the PA.
The official said, however, that the meeting does not mean the PA leadership has changed its position regarding the resumption of the peace talks with Israel.
“Our demands remain unchanged,” the official added.
“Without a full freeze of settlement construction and a halt to Israeli practices against the Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem, there will be no resumption of the peace process.”
On Monday in the Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed his commitment to a united Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem must remain united under Israeli sovereignty,” he said.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for the PA presidency in the West Bank, warned that Israel’s actions, including “daily killings, ongoing incursions into the Aksa Mosque and settlement construction” would have “grave repercussions” and prompt the Palestinian leadership to take “important decisions.”
He did not elaborate, nor did he specify the nature of the decisions that would be taken.
Abu Rudaineh was referring to the recent killing of three Palestinians in the West Bank by IDF soldiers, visits by Jews to the Temple Mount and plans to build new housing projects in settlements and east Jerusalem neighborhoods.
The spokesman did not comment on the meeting between Erekat and Shalom.
Erekat held talks in Cairo Monday with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby on the situation in the Palestinian territories.
Erekat later said he agreed with Elaraby that Arab foreign ministers would hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on August 5 to discuss Israel’s recent measures, adding that the ministers also would discuss presenting a new resolution to the UN Security Council calling for setting a timeline for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. The Arab ministers are also scheduled to discuss ways of ending the ongoing crisis between Fatah and Hamas, he said.
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials denied a Channel 1 report that claimed PA President Mahmoud Abbas is considering resigning in two months.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official, dismissed the report as “Israeli rumors intended to create confusion.” He said the report was completely untrue and Abbas did not talk about stepping down during meetings with Fatah leaders.
Another top Fatah official, Jamal Muhaissen, accused Israeli media of being biased against Abbas, claiming the campaign against Abbas is linked to the PA president’s “political and legal battle” against Israel in the international arena.
“President Abbas will continue to lead the Palestinian people and Fatah,” Muhaissen said. “He will be Fatah’s candidate in the next presidential election.