Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams were scheduled to meet Thursday, after the talks were pushed off from Wednesday. US special envoy Martin Indyk was on his way to Israel in order to meet with the parties.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told a visiting group of Knesset members in Ramallah on Wednesday that if a deal was struck to extend the talks, he would want the next three months of negotiations to focus on defining the borders of a Palestinian state, with detailed discussion over the specifics on maps, and that Israel should freeze all settlement building during that period.
If, however, the negotiating deadlock continued, Abbas told the MKs, he would ask Israel to take over responsibility for the territories from the PA — simply to “take the keys,” they quoted him as saying.
The MKs, led by Labor’s Hilik Bar, said Abbas was adamant that Israel had to free a fourth and final group of long-term Palestinian prisoners as a condition for the extension of peace talks, and that Israeli-Arabs be included in the group — as, he said, had been agreed at the start of the process. He noted that Israeli Arabs were released by Israel in previous prisoner exchanges, and thus rejected the notion that such releases were unprecedented. He also rejected a reported Shin Bet security agency demand that 10 of the men to go free be exiled from the West Bank to Gaza or overseas.
Israel last month cancelled the fourth phase of prisoner releases because of its reluctance to free Israeli Arabs and because Abbas was not committing to extending the talks. Negotiations on a wider prisoner release deal, possibly to include the US freeing American-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, were then derailed when Abbas filed applications to join 15 international treaties and conventions — a move Israel called a “major breach” of Israeli-Palestinian understandings.
State Department spokesman Marie Harf said that both sides wanted to reach an agreement to extend the talks beyond the April 29 deadline.
A Palestinian official told AFP the Israeli-Palestinian negotiators’ meeting was pushed off from Wednesday in order to allow US envoy Indyk to arrive in the region and take part in the talks, but an Israeli official said the postponement was due to the West Bank shooting attack on Monday that killed a senior Israeli police officer and injured his wife and son.
“The meeting that was planned for tonight between Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams will not be taking place. It’s being postponed,” an Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Baruch Mizrahi, a father of five, was shot dead by Palestinian terrorists near the West Bank city of Hebron as he drove to celebrate the traditional Passover banquet with his family.
The victim was killed when the family’s car was struck by several bullets. Mizrahi’s pregnant wife Hadas was injured in the attack. Mizrahi was laid to rest on Wednesday.
An Israeli official said Monday’s terror attack “was the direct result of ongoing incitement and glorification of terrorism that we see in the official Palestinian media and education system.”
Despite the attack, Abbas met as scheduled with the group of dovish Knesset members led by Bar, and told them he was willing to maintain security cooperation with Israel even if peace talks are not being held, Israeli media reported. He also condemned the killings of all civilians and reportedly said he was dismayed that Israel was not working with PA security forces to track down the Hebron gunman. However, he reportedly told the MKs he would only publicly condemn the killings once an investigation into the attack had been completed.
The US has been taking steps to revive talks that began to deteriorate rapidly at the end of March after Israel nixed the planned release of Palestinian prisoners and Abbas applied for Palestinian membership to the 15 U and other international treaties and conventions, despite a commitment to not take such a step.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman warned on Wednesday that if US Secretary of State John Kerry stepped back from the peace effort, both sides would be sorry. “The truth is Kerry’s mission is less an act of strategy and more an act of deep friendship. It is America trying to save Israel from trends that will inevitably undermine it as a Jewish and democratic state. But Kerry is the last of an old guard. Those in the Obama administration who think he is on a suicide mission reflect the new US attitude toward the region. And those in Israel who denounce him as a nuisance reflect the new Israel,” Friedman wrote. “Kerry, in my view, is doing the Lord’s work. But the weight of time and all the changes it has wrought on the ground may just be too heavy for such an act of friendship. If he folds his tent, though, Israelis and Palestinians will deeply regret it, and soon.”
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended contact between Israeli and Palestinian officials as part of punitive measures against the PA for the applications to international bodies. However, the ban did not include contact between Defense Ministry officials and their Palestinian counterparts, enabling joint security work in the West Bank to continue.
Palestinian Authority Religious Affairs Minister Mahmoud al-Habash told a group of Israeli journalists in Ramallah on Wednesday that one of the conditions the Palestinians have laid down for continuation of the negotiations is that Israel present a map that shows the borders between a future Palestinian state and Israel. The issue of the map and the delineation of state lines are matters that keep coming up again and again between the two sides, Habash said.
He added that the PA will not agree to be a ruling body without power and that the current situation will not continue beyond the end of the year. Habash warned that the price of failed peace talks is likely to be painfully heavy and hinted that the PA is likely to fall apart if talks fail.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.