Erekat rejects fortnightly meetings plan

"Top issue for talks' success is PM's decision on building freeze."

Obama Netanyahu Abbas 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Obama Netanyahu Abbas 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Palestinian Authority Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat rejected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's calls for fortnightly face-to-face meetings with PA President Mahmoud Abbas during upcoming peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel Radio reported on Saturday, citing an interview Erekat conducted with the BBC in Arabic.
In the interview, Erekat added that it is too soon to establish who exactly will meet for negotiations, how often they will do so, and where the meetings will take place.
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He emphasized that the most important issue determining the success or failure of the talks at this point is Netanyahu's stance on whether or not to extend the building freeze in the West Bank which is scheduled to end on September 26.
Netanyahu said on Thursday, in a meeting with his top advisers, that he planned to propose next week, at the launching of direct talks in Washington, that he and Abbas meet every two weeks and come to agreement on the principal issues that will then be fleshed out by smaller negotiating teams.
He added that “serious negotiations in the Middle East [require] direct, discreet and continuous talks between the leaders on the key issues. That is why I am suggesting that the talks be conducted in this fashion.”
At the Thursday meeting, Netanyahu said that he would personally conduct the negotiations with Abbas, and that his point man on the Palestinian issue, Yitzhak Molcho, would be the chief negotiator in the meetings between the teams.
He said he wanted a small negotiating team to conduct “swift, thorough and serious” talks.
Among those expected to be in the Israeli team with Molcho, Netanyahu’s point man on the Palestinian issue, are National Security Council head Uzi Arad; the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general of the Middle East department, Yaakov Hadas; Netanyahu’s military attaché Brig.-Gen. Yohanan Locker; Director of Policy Planning Ron Dermer; as well as a Defense Ministry and IDF representative. The team will be augmented by other experts as the subjects demand.
Increased pessimism in J'lem about the possibility of the talks succeeding
Thursday night’s meeting came as the PA’s threats to bolt the talks if Israel does not extend its 10-month settlement construction moratorium increased pessimism in Jerusalem about the possibility of the talks succeeding. The talks are scheduled to kick off in Washington on Thursday.
Israel “sees a great deal of importance in the fact that the direct negotiations will open without preconditions,” a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office stressed.
The view in Jerusalem is that the Palestinian talk of bolting from the negotiating table if the moratorium is not extended is just a precondition in a different guise.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama’s special adviser Dennis Ross was in the country, along with envoy George Mitchell’s top aide David Hale, holding talks with Molcho. The American team is widely believed to be trying to find a formula regarding the settlement housing-start moratorium that would keep that issue from torpedoing the talks.
While various cabinet ministers have spoken out vociferously in recent days against any type of extension of the freeze, with others – specifically Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor – advocating formulas whereby building would continue inside the large settlement blocks, but not in Jewish communities beyond the West Bank security barrier, Netanyahu has not made any recent public statements on the matter.
Netanyahu has said in the past, however, that the moratorium was for a defined period of 10-months and no longer. At the same time, his spokesmen have said in recent weeks that the issue of settlements is one that would be discussed during the negotiations.
The settlement construction moratorium will expire at midnight on September 26, unless the full cabinet decides to extend it either in full or in part.
UNHRC: PA is leading anti-Israeli efforts
In a related development, a Foreign Ministry paper documenting the ways in which the PA is leading anti-Israeli efforts in various forums around the world, from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, was presented recently to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The document is believed to be a counterbalance that Israel will have at the ready if the Palestinians say that settlement activity is harming the atmosphere of the negotiations. So, too, Israel will counter, do PA efforts against Israel around the world harm mutual trust and the atmosphere for healthy negotiations.
A senior US official said this week Washington expected that neither side would take any action to harm the atmosphere of the talks.
In light of work sanctions Foreign Ministry employees are taking to equalize their work conditions with the Defense Ministry and the Mossad, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that it has asked the Defense Ministry’s procurement delegation in Washington to help with the logistics of Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, since the Foreign Ministry said it would not provide any support for the trip.