Abbas willing to meet with Netanyahu to boost peace talks

Statement marks the first time since September 2010 that Abbas has agreed to hold direct negotiations with Netanyahu.

Abbas with French FM Fabius 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Abbas with French FM Fabius 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday that he was prepared to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to discuss ways of boosting the peace process.
Abbas told reporters after meeting in Ramallah with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius: "We have no objections to meeting with the Israeli prime minister when there is a need for such a meeting."
His statement marks the first time since September 2010 that Abbas has agreed to hold direct negotiations with Netanyahu. Until now he has insisted that Israel halt all West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem before such a conversation could happen.
Netanyahu, in contrast, has consistently called on Abbas to meet him without pre-conditions. But on Saturday night the Prime Minister's Office had no comment to Abbas' invitation.
It comes just weeks after the revival of the peace process at the end of July, for what is expected to be a nine-month process.  The meetings to date, however, have been between Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israeli envoy Yitzhak Malho and Palestinian negotiators Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh.
On Saturday, Abbas said that the Palestinians decided to seize the opportunity and hold talks with Israel "regardless of what is happening in the region and the surrounding circumstances."
He expressed hope that Israel would share the Palestinians' "sincere intentions" to make the talks succeed.
Abbas reiterated his demand that Israel halt settlement construction and release Palestinian prisoners. He also called for US participation in the current peace talks.
"The Palestinian leadership decided to return to the negotiations in order to achieve peace," he added. "We hope the talks will succeed."
Abbas also thanked France for supporting the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN General Assembly in November 2011.
He also hailed France's vote in favor of Palestinian membership in UNESCO.
"Palestine has now become a state under occupation," Abbas continued. "This occupation must end on the basis of a two-state solution on the 1967 borders with a minor swap of lands equal in size and value."
Fabius stressed the importance to the peace process to increasing stability in the region, and warned that unless the talks move forward, the increase of turmoil in the region could become an obstacle in their way, Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.
He also described Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as “illegal under international law,” according to WAFA.
During his visit to Ramallah, the French minister signed an agreement with PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah according to which France would provide the Palestinians with 19 million Euro in aid.
Nine million Euros would go directly to the PA budget, while the remaining sum would be allocated to supporting a solid waste project in the Gaza Strip.
On Sunday Fabius is set to meet with Netanyahu, Livni and Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich (Labor).
On Saturday night Fabius met with Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz.
Tovah Lazaroff and staff contributed to this report.