Israeli officials responded coolly Tuesday to remarks from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he would be willing to continue negotiations in exchange for a settlement freeze, saying the Palestinian leader was uninterested in peace.
Unnamed officials said Abbas was laying down unacceptable terms in order to allow talks to fail without being blamed for it.
“The meaning of all these things is that he’s not interested in peace,” an unnamed official told the Ynet news site. “Someone who wants peace does not present time after time conditions he knows Israel cannot accept.”
Earlier in the day Abbas told a group of Israeli journalists that the Palestinians would agree to extend negotiations with Israel by nine months on condition that Israel agrees to immediately commence discussing the borders of the future Palestinian state and freeze settlement construction, including in East Jerusalem.
He added that Ramallah was still expecting the release of 30 pre-Oslo prisoners as part of the agreement to hold peace talks, and that he had rejected an Israeli demand to deport a number of them — some of whom hold Israeli citizenship.
But a senior Israeli official told AFP that settlement building in Jerusalem would not be frozen and that Israel had never agreed to discuss the border issue separately from other core issues.
These include Palestinians refugees, the fate of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as a capital, security and mutual recognition.
“It is impossible to define borders before an agreement on the other issues,” the Israeli official said.
He also reiterated that Israel planned on expelling towards the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, or abroad, some of the last batch of prisoners that Abbas wants freed.
“This has been clearly explained to the Palestinians. Never has Israel committed not to carry out expulsions,” he said.
Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the hawkish Jewish Home party, said Abbas’s threat that the collapse of talks would lead to the dismantling of the PA were nothing new.
“We are hearing again and again the refrain of the same threat that if we don’t advance, if we don’t give him what he wants, then woe is us, he will dismantle the PA,” Bennett told a conference. “I suggest to Abbas, if you’re going to shoot, then shoot, don’t talk.”
Opposition head Isaac Herzog, however, put the blame on Netanyahu, saying he had released prisoners without getting to an advance in peace talks, hurting Israel in the long run.
“The time has come for Netanyahu to decide if he wants a Jewish state or a bi-national state,” Herzog wrote on his Facebook page.