Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Libya on Thursday to
seek Arab League backing for his decision to quit direct talks with Israel until
the settlement construction moratorium is renewed, amid no signs that the US and
Israel have a formula in hand to break the impasse.
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to the US Michael Oren on Thursday was the first Israeli or American official to
acknowledge that Washington had offered Jerusalem inducements to extend the
freeze, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – in public statements he made later
in the day – sounded more like someone trying to shift the blame for failure
onto the other side, rather than someone on the verge of announcing a
“We honored the government decision and took upon ourselves
a commitment to the international community and the US to start the peace
talks,” Netanyahu said of the 10- month moratorium that ended nearly two weeks
“The Palestinians waited over nine months and, immediately at the
onset of the talks, set a precondition even though they had promised that there
would be no preconditions.”
The prime minister said that just as his
government honored its commitment regarding the settlement moratorium, “we very
much hope that the Palestinians will stay in the peace talks.”
Netanyahu during a visit to Lod, “Today, the questions need to be directed to
the Palestinians: Why are you abandoning the talks? Don’t turn your backs on
peace; stay in the talks. This is what needs to be asked today, and not of the
Oren, in a video interview on The Washington Post’s
website, said Netanyahu feared that since he said the moratorium would only last
for 10 months, if it was extended his credibility would be “grievously
If at the beginning of the negotiating process Netanyahu’s
credibility was dented, then no one would believe him at the end of the process
when he would have to give his word to the country that “the two-state solution
would be to their benefit,” Oren said.
The US administration, Oren
acknowledged, “came to Israel with a number of suggestions, incentives if you
would, that would enable the government to maybe pass a limited extension of two
or three months.”
Oren said the Obama administration was also continuing
to talk with the Palestinians and the Arab League.
meanwhile, the widespread assessment was that the Arab League would back Abbas’s
decision to leave the talks if Israel did not declare another settlement freeze,
or did not declare that it would accept the principle of a Palestinian state
based on the June 4, 1967, borders.
The Prime Minister’s Office,
meanwhile, continued to stay completely mum about the content of the
negotiations, or whether it thought the ongoing contacts with the Americans
would bear fruit.
However, in what was perhaps a sign of low expectations
in Jerusalem of any dramatic breakthrough, no meeting of the security cabinet or
Netanyahu’s senior decision-making forum, the septet, had been scheduled for
The Prime Minister’s Office refused to relate to media reports
that as a condition for extending the moratorium by two or three months,
Netanyahu was asking US President Barack Obama to sign off on a letter president
George W. Bush gave prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, a year before the
withdrawal from Gaza.
In that letter, seen as instrumental in enabling
Sharon to get his disengagement plan through the cabinet, Bush indicated that
the US would not back the Palestinian claim for a right of refugee return to
within the pre-1967 borders; would not call for a full return to those 1967
borders, something Israel took to mean that Washington would accept Israel’s
holding on to the major settlement blocs; and that the US would back Jerusalem
when international pressure came to bear on Israel regarding its nuclear
The Obama administration has never reaffirmed that letter, a
sore point to some inside the government who feel Sharon withdrew from Gaza on
the basis of that document.
The Arab foreign ministers will be meeting in
the Libyan city of Serte on Friday.
The Jerusalem Post revealed this week
that the Palestinians were considering a US proposal to remain in the talks if
Israel extended the freeze by two or three months, while waiting to see if
Israel would accept the offer.
A senior PA official said the proposal was
not a bad idea.
The official said that the PA leadership would accept the
American offer only if the US administration gave the Palestinians assurances
that an agreement on the borders of a future Palestinian state would be reached
within the two- or three-month time period of the new moratorium.
top PA official told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that he expected “some kind
of a compromise” that would allow the Palestinians to continue with the
“We believe that in the end the Americans will put heavy pressure
on the Israeli government to extend the freeze,” the official said, adding that
the PA and the Arab League were not seeking to destroy the peace
The official said that Abbas did not want to bear sole
responsibility for whatever happens with the peace talks.
“We want an
Arab decision,” he added. “We don’t want the decision to be taken only by the
Despite the tone of optimism voiced by the
official, Yasser Abed Rabbo, a PLO leader and close adviser to Abbas, was quoted
by Agence France-Press as saying that there can be no peace as long as Netanyahu
is in power.
Abed Rabbo also denied that Abbas and Netanyahu were
planning to meet in Paris at the end of the month.
Nicolas Sarkozy announced last month that he had invited both men, and Netanyahu
has publicly said he would accept the invitation.
Abbas, meanwhile, has
returned to his old habit of threatening to resign if Israel does not comply
with his demands, making his latest threat during a meeting in Jordan on
Wednesday night with members of the Palestine National Council, the PLO’s
Khaled Musmar, a PLO official, said that Abbas
hinted during the meeting that he would resign from his post if the peace talks
with Israel failed.
Abbas described the talks with Israel as “hard and
complicated because of Israeli intransigence and refusal to freeze settlement
Abbas told the delegates that he would soon take
“important decisions” but did not elaborate, sparking renewed speculation that
he might step down or dissolve the PA.