Israeli official says talks could resume if PA unity fails

Senior official in Netanyahu's gov't says ongoing problems between Fatah and Hamas could lead to breakthrough in diplomatic process.

Palestinian Unity Egypt 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian Unity Egypt 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ROME – The Palestinians’ struggles in forging an agreement on a unity government supported by Fatah and Hamas could create an opportunity for diplomatic talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume, a senior official on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plane to Rome suggested on Sunday.
The ruling Fatah movement initialed a power sharing agreement with Hamas in Cairo in April. But since then the two sides have sparred over issues such as the demands of the international community that incumbent PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad remain on the job and that Hamas accept the Quartet’s demands that it renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept previous agreements.
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The senior Israeli official blamed the Palestinians for the stalemate in the diplomatic process but expressed optimism that failed Palestinian reconciliation could give new hope. He said international pressure on the Palestinians was a factor.
The official denied reports of an American ultimatum to respond by next month to President Barack Obama’s plan to start diplomatic talks with the borders issue before dealing with the fate of Jerusalem and descendants of Palestinian refugees.
Steve Simon, who replaced incoming American ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro as senior National Security Council adviser on the Middle East, held a conference call with US Jewish leaders on Friday in which he said that the Palestinians had indicated that they would move forward with talks on the basis of Obama’s proposal, if Israel agreed as well, and that the US was now waiting for Israel’s answer, according to participants on the offthe- record call.
Simon reportedly suggested that July 15, the date by which proposals must be submitted to the United Nations ahead of the General Assembly session in September, could be a key target date for starting diplomatic talks and preventing a vote at the GA on establishing a Palestinian state.
But the senior official said there was no timetable with the Americans and that Netanyahu did not receive any ultimatum or even a hint of an ultimatum.
Netanyahu left for Rome on Sunday accompanied by eight ministers. The ministers will sign bilateral agreements with their Italian counterparts and hold a joint cabinet meeting as they did in Jerusalem in February 2010.
The prime minister will meet with his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, who is expected to restate his opposition to a UN vote on forming a Palestinian state. Berlusconi told PA President Mahmoud Abbas that he opposed such a move when he visited Italy two weeks ago.
Exhibits on Israeli accomplishments will be on show throughout Rome this week. A poster calling for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit is hanging outside Rome City Hall, which Netanyahu visited on Sunday.
“Italy is one of the most supportive countries of Israel in Europe,” Israeli ambassador Gideon Meir told Army Radio.
“They also have good relations with Arab countries and the Palestinians. But they oppose declaring a Palestinian state unilaterally and they prevent a consensus on the matter in the European Union.”
Hilary Leila Krieger and Daniel Clinton contributed to this report.