Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Al Jazeera Wednesday that the Palestinians would return to the negotiating table only if Israel accepts the vision of two states based on the 1967 borders. His comments came a day before US Secretary of State John Kerry was due in the region in an attempt to revive peace talks.
Abbas denied that he was setting preconditions to talks, saying he merely wanted clarity on the parameters of the negotiations.
Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled since 2010. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed not to agree to any preconditions before returning to the table, while expressing readiness to discuss all issues when talks resume. He has reiterated his support for a two-state solution, but has not expressed readiness in advance of talks to negotiate on the basis of the pre-1967 lines.
According to Israel Radio, Abbas did not mention a settlement freeze or the freeing of Palestinian prisoners, preconditions the PA had previously demanded in order to renew peace talks with Israel.
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem told the Maariv daily that Netanyahu was prepared to release a limited number of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Abbas dropping the return to the pre-1967 lines as a precondition to resuming the talks.
On Monday, Israeli media reported that Abbas was willing to enter a new round of negotiations, but PA sources denied the report a short while later.
On Tuesday morning, top PA negotiator Saeb Erekat rejected rumors that his side would forgo its demands and participate in US-brokered talks. He said Ramallah was willing to enter negotiations, calling its demands Israeli obligations rather than Palestinian preconditions.
Also on Tuesday, Netanyahu expressed his desire to return to talks. “Our fervent hope is for peace, a genuine peace that can be achieved only through direct negotiations without preconditions. We’re ready to enter such negotiations. I hope the Palestinians are, too,” Netanyahu said during a meeting with Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili in his Jerusalem office.
“Our goal is not just to enter and put a ‘V’ to show that we’ve begun negotiations,” he said, using the Hebrew vernacular for a check mark. “Our goal is to persist in the negotiations, to engage in them consistently over a serious period of time in order to try to grapple with all the issues and come to an agreement that resolves the fundamental issues in the conflict.”
Such a process “will require time and determination and a systematic approach,” Netanyahu added. “That’s our approach. I hope it’s theirs, too.”
On Thursday, Kerry will arrive in the region for another bid to restart the peace process in talks with Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian officials. Kerry has made four previous trips to the region since taking the post in February, engaging in intense shuttle diplomacy in a bid to jump-start talks, so far with no tangible results.