A key Palestine Liberation Organization body on Saturday held talks after Israel pulled out of US-sponsored peace negotiations in response to a Palestinian reconciliation deal with Hamas.
The meeting of the PLO’s Central Council at its West Bank headquarters in Ramallah started shortly after 0800 GMT.
A member of the Islamist movement Hamas was attending the meeting and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke at the opening session.
Abbas said that in the past two days hope was renewed with the unity deal reached by Fatah and Hamas. “We have reached a peak of difficulty, complication in political situation but we will remain steadfast” to ensure Palestinian rights, he said.
The PA president lambasted Israel, saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was determined not to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, and that Israel’s refusal to negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas is proof it is not committed to a two-state solution. He praised US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts, saying he was serious about helping the two sides reach a negotiated peace.
The council had called the meeting over the crisis in negotiations, but also discussed the Wednesday unity deal with the Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza. The last time the PCC convened was three years ago.
Israel suspended the peace talks over the deal, saying it would have no dealings with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, which is pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state.
Israel and the United States had been hoping to extend the faltering peace talks beyond their April 29 deadline, but the efforts hit a wall last month when Israel refused to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners.
The Palestinians retaliated by applying to adhere to 15 international treaties and then Abbas, who heads the PLO, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah, listed conditions for extending the talks beyond the April 29 deadline.
Abbas said he would agree to an extension if Israel freezes settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, frees the prisoners and begins discussions on the future borders of a promised Palestinian state.
Israel dismissed the conditions.
On Saturday he reiterated his demands, saying he was still interested in extending the peace talks.
In the unity deal penned this week, Hamas and the Fatah-led PLO agreed to establish a “national consensus” government under Abbas within weeks.
The reconciliation deal infuriated Israel, which said it would “not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terror organization that calls for the destruction of Israel,” and vowed unspecified “measures” in response.
Delegates from Hamas were invited to participate in the weekend PLO meeting, but sources from the Islamist movement said they would not be attending.
On Friday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said US efforts to broker a peace deal had not failed, but were currently in a “holding period” as Palestinians and Israelis decide their next move.
She noted Abbas had insisted that any government formed with Hamas backing would “represent his policies, and that includes recognition of Israel, commitment to non-violence, adherence to prior agreements and commitment to peaceful negotiations toward a two-state solution.”
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said, however, that the Palestinians received no official statement from Washington about a change in the US’s aid policy vis-á-vis the Palestinians in light of the reconciliation deal, according to Israel Radio. Congressional Republicans and Democrats signaled Friday that any permanent agreement between the PA and Hamas, which the US designates a terrorist organization, would force the US to end some $400 million in economic and security aid provided annually.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah informed Abbas Friday he would resign if the president deemed it necessary for the formation of the new unity government, official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.
AP contributed to this report.