Abbas fails to win PLO, Fatah backing for resuming peace talks

Fatah, PLO officials don't trust US administration, seek public declaration of Kerry's plan; Fatah official says Israel agreed to release 250 Palestinian prisoners, 100 others imprisoned before Oslo Accords.

Abbas with a Jerusalem background 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Abbas with a Jerusalem background 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday failed to win the backing of PLO and Fatah leaders for resuming peace talks with Israel.
Abbas convened the leaders in Ramallah to brief them on the outcome of his discussions with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jordan this week. Kerry would likely leave the region on Friday empty-handed.
Abbas and Kerry met in Amman on Tuesday and Wednesday in the context of Kerry’s ongoing efforts to revive the stalled peace talks. Early on Thursday there was much speculation that the secretary of state would make an announcement on Friday morning of an agreement to begin negotiations.
After hearing Kerry’s new ideas and proposals for resuming the peace talks, Abbas returned to Ramallah to seek the approval of members of the PLO Executive Committee and the Fatah Central Committee for returning to the negotiating table. Abbas already won the backing of the Arab League foreign ministers on Wednesday for resuming peace talks.
Palestinian officials described Thursday’s discussions in Ramallah as “stormy,” saying several PLO and Fatah officials voiced opposition to the resumption of the talks on the basis of Kerry’s ideas, which have yet to be made public.
At the end of the discussions, the Palestinian leaders announced that they had formed a committee that would be entrusted with reviewing Kerry’s proposals.
Israel had no formal comment on the developments, awaiting a final Palestinian decision.
“We are ready to return to talks, and we hope the Palestinians are ready as well,” one official said.
Amin Maqboul, a Fatah official, said the Palestinians were seeking a written and public declaration from Kerry about the understandings he reached with Abbas.
Maqboul told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that Abbas and Kerry agreed that the talks with Israel would be based on the pre-1967 lines and that the Israeli government would release Palestinian prisoners and halt construction in settlements.
Maqboul said that a denial issued by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office [regarding the pre-1967 lines and possible land swaps] “blew up Kerry’s efforts.”
Maqboul said he did not share other Palestinian officials’ assessment that Kerry would nevertheless go ahead with plans to announce the resumption of the peace talks.
“Netanyahu’s refusal to accept the 1967 borders means that he remains committed to settlement construction,” the Fatah official said. “This means there will be no return to the negotiations.”
Thursday night’s development capped a roller-coaster day that began with high expectations that Kerry was on the verge of announcing the re-commencement of talks.
President Shimon Peres, addressing the EU in an appeal to freeze its publication of new guidelines restricting engagement with Israeli entities over the 1967 lines, said the sides were within “touching distance” of restarting talks.
“From the latest information at my disposal, Secretary Kerry has succeeded in advancing the chance for opening peace talks,” Peres said. “I am grateful for his efforts and I know that the endeavor is a serious one.
The coming days are crucial and we are within touching distance.”
His words were followed by a Reuters report quoting an Israeli official as saying Israel had agreed to resume talks based on the borders of a future Palestinian state being drawn along the pre-1967 lines, with agreed land swaps, a central Palestinian demand that Netanyahu had consistently resisted being placed in the talks’ terms of reference.
In an apparent concession to Israel, the terms of reference – according to this report – would then describe the future Palestinian state as one that would exist alongside a Jewish state.
Israel has long sought Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, a declaration that would imply that the Palestinians have given up their claims to a “right of return” to Israel for refugees and their descendants.
The Prime Minister’s Office, however, quickly denied the report.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki then further doused expectations by saying in Amman that there were currently “no plans for an announcement for the resumption of negotiations.”
Maqboul and other Palestinian officials claimed that Israel has agreed to release some 250 Palestinian prisoners, in addition to another 100 inmates imprisoned before the signing of the Oslo Accords. Israeli officials would not release any details about what had and had not been agreed upon.
Palestinian sources told Ma’an that most Fatah and PLO officials who participated in Thursday’s discussions do not trust the US administration.
PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yusef said after the meeting said that Kerry and Abbas have reached an understanding that the borders of a Palestinian state should be on the pre-1967 lines.
Abu Yusef said that the Israeli government was still refusing to accept the Palestinian demand to stop settlement construction.
The US believes that the two sides can continue to negotiate while settlement construction continues, Abu Yusef added.
“I don’t believe that under the current circumstances we would be able to resume the negotiations,” he said. “This would be unacceptable to the Palestinian people.”
A source close to Abbas said that Kerry’s proposals call for ceasing Jewish construction in the West Bank outside settlement blocs, and boosting the Palestinian economy.
Despite the note of pessimism, some Palestinian officials said it was premature to talk about the failure of Kerry’s efforts.
One official said that Abbas seemed inclined to return to the negotiations, even if all his demands are not met.
“Kerry promised us some very good things, but the problem is that he won’t put this in writing,” the official explained. “In light of our past experiences with the Americans, many leaders here remain skeptical and don’t trust the US administration.”