Israeli, Palestinian officials to meet in Amman

Meeting to mark first direct talks in over a year; Abbas says "all options on table" after proposed Quartet timeline expires, but rules out third intifada.

PA President Abbas with PM Netanyahu 311 (R) (photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
PA President Abbas with PM Netanyahu 311 (R)
(photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will meet in Amman Tuesday for direct talks, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry announced Sunday.
This will be the first public direct meeting between the sides in more than a year.
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One Israeli official said there have been intensive behind-the-scenes talks over the last few days between Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan and the Quartet – made up of the US, EU, Russia and the UN – to arrange the talks.
Israel will be represented by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho, and the Palestinians are expected to be represented by PA negotiator Saeb Erekat.
According to Petra, Jordan’s official news agency, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh will host a joint meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian officials, along with the representatives of the Quartet, followed by a second Israeli-Palestinian meeting, this time without a Quartet presence.
Jordanian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Muhammad al- Kayed was quoted by Petra as saying the purpose of the meetings was to find common ground enabling a resumption of talks that will “achieve a Palestinian-Israeli peace accord that embodies the two-state solution and addresses all final-status issues by the end of 2012.”
The Quartet, in its statement from September 23 establishing a framework for direct talks, set the end of 2012 as a deadline for reaching an agreement.
Al-Kayed said Jordan’s King Abdullah II pushed hard for the talks during his November meetings in Ramallah with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and in Amman with President Shimon Peres.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement thanking Abdullah and Judeh for their initiative in convening the meetings “in accordance with the Quartet’s framework.”
One official said Jordan’s positive involvement in the diplomatic process, at a time when Islamism is on the march in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, sent an important message of moderation.
Abbas cut off talks with Netanyahu in September 2010, less than a month after they started, because of Netanyahu’s refusal to renew a 10-month settlement construction freeze. All efforts to restart direct negotiations since then have failed.
One Israeli official said Jerusalem welcomed the talks in Amman, and that Israel’s position has long been that it wanted direct negotiations without preconditions as soon as possible.
The meeting will come well before January 26, the newest deadline on the diplomatic calendar. This day marks the end of a 90-day period the Quartet gave the sides to come up with “comprehensive proposals on territory and security.”
The Palestinians interpreted this to mean that both sides were to come up independently – without direct negotiations – with proposals on territory and security and give them to the Quartet.
This interpretation was recently backed up by the EU, prompting a Foreign Ministry statement saying the EU was risking becoming irrelevant in the diplomatic process.
Israel’s interpretation, backed by Washington, was that the comprehensive proposals were to be put forward after 90 days of intensive direct talks between the sides.
The hope in Jerusalem is that Tuesday’s meeting will mark the beginning of this intensive negotiation.
Meanwhile, Abbas said all options will be open for the Palestinians if the Quartet members fail to resume the Middle East peace process by the deadline.
Abbas said in an interview with Palestine TV on Sunday that Jordan was working toward holding a meeting between the Quartet representatives and Israelis and Palestinians to discuss ways of resuming the stalled peace process.
“This deadline ends on January 26, and when the Quartet does not succeed, we will have to wing our next steps,” he said.
“If nothing happens, all options are open,” Abbas said. “Of course there are people who are talking about a third intifada, but I say this is not on the table and I don’t accept it.”
Abbas expressed concern that the US would be preoccupied with the presidential election during 2012, and would therefore have no time to deal with the Middle East.
He said it was inconceivable that the Americans would say they are too busy with elections and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should wait until after the vote.
The PA president also said he hoped internal Israeli politics wouldn’t play a role in derailing the peace process.
“Peace is more important than the Israeli government coalition,” Abbas said. “The Israelis can form another government with opposition parties. Peace is more important than any coalition.”
Abbas said preparations were underway to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories next May. However, he did not rule out the possibility that the elections would be postponed if the Palestinian Elections Commission rules that it needs more time to prepare for the vote.
He said that a new Palestinian government would be established before the planned elections.
“No elections will be held under two governments,” he said, referring to the governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Abbas said the new government would abide by his political program and the conditions of the Quartet, namely recognizing the twostate solution and renouncing violence.
Hamas leaders have said that even if they join the Palestinian government, they would not comply with the demands of the Quartet and would never recognize Israel’s right to exit.
Addressing the Israeli public, Abbas said: “Peace can’t wait any longer. The quicker we move to achieve peace, the better it would be not only for our peoples, but for the entire world.”
He also reiterated his readiness to resume the peace talks with Israel, but said that the Israeli government must first stop construction in the settlements and accept the 1967 “borders” as the basis for a two-state solution.
PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki was quoted Sunday as saying that the Quartet should blame Israel for the failure of efforts to resume the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
Malki told an Algerian newspaper that the Palestinians would benefit from a Quartet declaration blaming Israeli “intransigence” for the failure of the peace process.
Malki said that while the Palestinians were interested in returning to the negotiating table, they did not want to negotiate for ever.
“There should be a timeline for such negotiations,” he explained. “The goal of the negotiations should be to end occupation and establish a Palestinian state.”
PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo said he did not expect the Quartet to achieve any “positive results” in its efforts to resume the peace process.
He too blamed Israel for the continued stalemate, especially because of the ongoing construction in the settlements.
Meanwhile Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan received Haniyeh warmly and told him that any process leading to a solution of Palestinian issues must involve Hamas as a player.
Palestinian media outlets reported that Haniyeh met with the Turkish prime minister at the latter’s home in Istanbul, and that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was also present in the meeting. According to Palestinian media, Erdogan referred to Israel as the “occupier” and discussed with Haniyeh what he termed the “Judaization of Jerusalem” and actions meant to make Arab residents flee the city.
Erdogan also expressed support of Hamas and Fatah’s reconciliation and said he hoped the Palestinians will establish an umbrella organization which would democratically represent all political players among the Palestinians.
Haniyeh reportedly thanked Erdogan for his support of Gaza residents during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead two years ago.
Haniyeh’s visit to Turkey follows visits to Egypt and Sudan. He is expected to meet with leaders also in Qatar, Tunisia and Bahrain.