Contrary to Palestinian claims, the terms for restarting long-dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace talks do not include a reference to the pre-1967 lines, according to a Western official quoted by The New York Times late Saturday.
Earlier, a Palestinian official told the AP that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to restart talks only after receiving a letter from US Secretary of State John Kerry guaranteeing that the basis of the negotiations would be Israel’s pre-1967 lines.
“There are no terms of reference or any other agreements that the 1967 lines will be the basis for negotiation,” the Times quoted the unnamed Western official as saying. Israeli ministers on Saturday insisted that there had been no agreement to restart negotiations for a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines.
Kerry told Abbas both that the talks would be based on the 1967 lines, and that Israel would impose a de facto building freeze in West Bank settlements, albeit without an official announcement, the Wall Street Journal reported late Saturday, citing a senior aide to Abbas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night hailed the resumption of the talks, announced Friday by Secretary of State John Kerry, as fulfilling Israel’s “vital strategic interests.”
In his statement Saturday night, Netanyahu said the negotiations were vital in order “to seek to bring to an end the conflict between us and the Palestinians” and important, too, “given the challenges we face, primarily from Iran and Syria.” Israel, he added, had two goals in the talks: “Preventing the creation of a single binational state between the [Mediterranean] Sea and the Jordan [River], which would endanger the future of the Jewish state, and preventing the establishment of an additional Iranian-sponsored terrorist state on Israel’s borders, which could endanger us no less.”
He thanked Kerry for his “great efforts” to get the sides back to the negotiating table and vowed that he would “insist upon Israel’s security need and its vital strategic interests.”
Israeli sources said the talks were set to last 9-12 months. Israel would be represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Netanyahu envoy Yitzhak Molcho and the Palestinians by veteran negotiator Saeb Erekat. Kerry said Friday he expected the talks to resume in Washington next week, but Israeli officials said logistics might require a further week of preparation.
Israeli sources said Erekat would doubtless raise demands for talks on the basis of the pre-1967 lines and for a settlement freeze — but these would be issues to negotiate at the table, not preconditions. Also, they said, while Israel would release most or all of the more than 100 Palestinian security prisoners held since before the Oslo accords were signed 20 years ago, they would go free in phases, depending on the progress of the talks.
A first group of 82 such prisoners, many of whom have Israeli blood on their hands, could be released within four to six weeks, they said. No veteran Israeli Arab prisoners would be freed, Channel 2 reported on Saturday night.
According to London’s Sunday Times, secret talks several months ago between President Shimon Peres and Abbas in Jordan facilitated the imminent resumption of peace talks. During meetings in Amman, Peres persuaded Abbas to relinquish the Palestinian demand that settlers be evacuated, the report said.
Such an understanding would mean that Abbas agreed, before the actual resumption of talks, to accept hundreds of thousands of Jewish residents of the West Bank and east Jerusalem as subjects or citizens of a future Palestinian state.
The Times of Israel could not independently confirm the report.