Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday said he would be willing to hold direct talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ending a long period in which the two leaders have stayed away from each other.
Speaking at a joint press conference with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Abbas said that “there is nothing that prevents a meeting with Netanyahu when the time comes for that and there is a need to meet.”
His statement came ahead of another round of lower-level negotiations, thought set to take place sometime in the coming week.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed direct peace talks in Washington on July 31 after a nearly three-year deadlock. The parties, led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, have met a handful of times, mostly in private, in the past month.
While the precise date of the upcoming meeting between Israeli and Palestinian envoys has not been formally announced, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said Saturday that he expected them to take place in the coming days.
According to anonymous Palestinian sources cited by AFP, the talks will take place early this week in the West Bank city of Jericho.
Netanyahu and Abbas have not held a face-to-face meeting since a visit to Washington in 2010, at the tail end of a 10-month Israeli moratorium on new construction in the West Bank.
Ahead of a visit with Livni on Sunday, the French foreign minister encouraged both sides to make inroads in the upcoming round of negotiations, saying a peace agreement would be a “thunderbolt” for a war-stricken Middle East.
“It is very important to move forward with negotiations because this will be great for peace and stability in the region,” he said.
“Even if we speak of other neighboring countries — the dramatic conflict in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt — the fact remains that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is one of the issues, perhaps the central one, for the region,” Fabius remarked.
Abbas earlier this week told left-wing Meretz party MKs that he had notified Netanyahu several times of his willingness to hold a tête-à-tête but never received an affirmative answer.
Netanyahu made a similar comment in late June, telling the Washington Post that “if [US] Secretary [of State John] Kerry, whose efforts we support, 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.”
The Prime Minister’s Office made no remark in response to Abbas’s statement.