Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared he’s prepared to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for direct peace talks.
“I’m always willing to meet with him,” Abbas said in an interview with the German newspaper Rheinische Post Tuesday. The Palestinian leader laid down no preconditions for talks but strongly condemned Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, which he said was illegal and undermined the peace process.
Abbas was in Germany as part of a visit to several European countries that began last week. The Palestinian leader has been appealing to the West to apply more pressure on Israel to halt settlement construction.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Abbas in Berlin last Friday and called on Israel to restrain its settlement activities, which she said were jeopardizing the newly renewed peace talks with the Palestinians.
Although in the interview with the Rheinische Post Abbas admitted that there had been no significant progress in the talks, comments he made in a TV interview on Saturday indicated he had not given up hope.
“The negotiations are difficult, but they haven’t reached a dead end,” he told Deutsche Welle. “They are still in the initial stage and we have enough time to further deal with the main issues that turn out to be difficult.”
In late August Abbas similarly stated that he is willing to meet with Netanyahu.
“There is nothing that prevents a meeting with Netanyahu when the time comes for that and there is a need to meet,” he said.
Two months earlier, Netanyahu had declared his own readiness to talk with Abbas face to face, saying that “if [US] Secretary [of State John] Kerry… were to pitch a tent halfway between [Jerusalem] and Ramallah — that’s 15 minutes away driving time — I’m in it, I’m in the tent. And I’m committed to stay in the tent and negotiate for as long as it takes to work out a solution of peace and security between us and the Palestinians.”
Abbas’s current European trip comes almost three months into renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Kerry is the only party authorized to comment on the content of the negotiations, but insiders have been quoted repeatedly in Israeli and Palestinian media as saying that little headway is being made. Each side is blaming the other for the impasses.
On Tuesday night, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations said “tangible progress remains elusive” in the talks. Israel’s UN envoy, who spoke after his Palestinian counterpart, said “the real obstacle” to peace is the Palestinians’ insistence on the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.