CMEP Bulletin: A Peace Talks Resurrection?
Weekly newsletter from Churches for Middle East Peace
More Diplomatic Dancing
As suggested by CMEP two weeks ago, the press is now reporting that contacts between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators continued after January’s suspension of talks in Amman. Israeli emissary Isaac Molho and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat met behind the scenes last week to discuss a letter from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Palestinians hope to arrange for a high level delegation, likely headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, to deliver it to the Israeli prime minister.
This letter has been in the works for several weeks. In early versions, Abbas reportedly threatened not only to resign but also to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, which would force Israel to take over direct rule in Palestinian areas of the West Bank now administered by the PA. The Palestinians later discussed the text of the letter to Netanyahu with the United States, who urged Abbas to not threaten dissolution. In the end, the threat was not included.
On April 4, Ha’aretz published a copy of the final version of the correspondence that the Palestinians intend to deliver. It appears to cover no new ground, but includes four familiar demands:
- The acceptance of the two-state solution based on 1967 borders with land swaps
- A settlement freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
- The release of Palestinian prisoners, including those who were arrested before the signing of the 1994 Oslo Accords
- A return to the situation on the ground in the West Bank prior to September 2000. (This date marks the start of the Second Intifada, where Israel resumed incursions into areas the Oslo Accords designated Area A ,under PA control).
Abbas insists these demands are not preconditions but unfulfilled commitments.
The letter says, “We presented our general stance on the issues of borders and security, and emphasized that we respect all the commitments demanded of us…We demanded of your government to present general stances surrounding territory and security, stopping settlement building and freeing prisoners. These are not conditions – they are commitments. To our dismay, none of these commitments were carried out.”
Israeli diplomats are already penning Netanyahu’s response. A senior Israeli official told Ha’aretz that the letter will reiterate Israel’s well-known position that it is ready to negotiate all issues without any preconditions and expects Palestinians to do the same. Officials also expect Netanyahu will say he is willing to negotiate borders, security, refugees, water, settlements and Jerusalem as long as any peace agreement includes Palestinian recognition of Israel as the home of the Jewish people and proper security arrangements.
Chief negotiators Erekat and Molho intend to meet again next week and the delegation may meet with Netanyahu after the Passover Holiday ends on April 14. The Quartet, consisting of the EU, Russia, UN and United States, plans to meet on April 11 to discuss developments.
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