Struggling to appear upbeat despite dwindling support from his political power base, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday that he was “optimistic” regarding the prospects of renewing peace negotiations with Israel.
“We are optimistic because [US Secretary of State John] Kerry is serious and intent on reaching a solution,” Abbas said during a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta in Ramallah. “We hope that in the very near future we can return to the negotiating table and deal with all the pending core issues.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday had told Letta he would be willing to sit in a tent and remain there “until white smoke comes out” if it would help advance talks. “I am ready to go into the tent, the peace tent, and stay in the tent until white smoke comes out,” he said, praising Kerry for working to bring about negotiations. “We want peace. I want peace. We want to restart peace negotiations as soon as possible, without any obstacles.”
Abbas’s optimism was starkly in contrast to the prevalent morose mood within Palestinian Authority leadership, which remained deeply skeptical of Israel’s willingness to come to the table.
At a meeting with foreign diplomats on Tuesday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat wondered how Kerry could possibly succeed in his mission as Israel announced the construction of 930 homes in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported. He repeated previous Palestinian preconditions whereby Israel must release prisoners, freeze settlement building and accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines before talks could resume.
“Peace building requires deeds, not words and PR like those used by the Israeli government,” Erekat said according to WAFA.
According to London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Abbas in fact withstood American pressure to hold a four-way summit in Amman together with Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah before Israel fulfills all three Palestinian preconditions. The Palestinian leadership reportedly congratulated Abbas for his steadfastness.
Kerry’s repeated failures in bringing the sides together caused one Palestinian official to conclude that peace negotiations were officially dead.
“The door to peace with Israel was completely shut following the failure of US Secretary of State John Kerry to achieve any progress in the peace process,” said Wasel Abu-Youssef, a member of PLO’s Executive Committee, in an interview with Hamas news website Al-Resalah on Tuesday.
Abu-Youssef claimed that given Israel’s “extremist and racist government,” all avenues toward a just peace were “completely closed.”
But at the press conference with the Italian leader, Abbas said that talks with Kerry did not focus solely on mechanisms for restarting negotiations, but dealt with “all issues that concern Israelis and Palestinians.” He scoffed at Netanyahu’s call to construct a peace tent between Jerusalem and Ramallah and negotiate there, saying the two leaders could easily meet in either of their homes in Jerusalem or Ramallah.
“Nothing prevents a meeting between us at any given time,” the Palestinian leader declared.
On Sunday, Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmad lambasted the American administration for its failure to bring Israel to the negotiating table, calling it a greater impediment to peace than Israel.