Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday afternoon hosted a Palestinian delegation for much-anticipated talks, and received a much-discussed letter sent by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was not among the participants.
The Times of Israel was told that, until the very last moment, Netanyahu did not know whether Fayyad would be coming.
Netanyahu and Yitzhak Molcho, his envoy to negotiations with the Palestinians, met with Saeb Erekat, the senior Palestinian negotiator, and Majid Faraj, the PA’s head of General Intelligence, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
The Palestinians gave Netanyahu the letter from Abbas setting out terms for a resumption of negotiations. Netanyahu will respond in writing within two weeks, his office said. “Both sides hope this exchange of letters will help find a way to advance peace,” said a joint statement released after the meeting.
Sources in Jerusalem said later that there was “nothing new” in the Abbas letter.
Fayyad, Palestinian sources said, opted to stay away, in part, because he was uncomfortable with the idea of meeting Netanyahu, and possibly being photographed with him, on a day the Palestinians are marking as Prisoners Day, and which has seen the start of a mass hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners.
The Netanyahu-Fayyad meeting was announced last week, and, albeit in its reduced form, represented the first high-level contact between the two sides since official talks in Jordan broke down in January.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak had said Tuesday morning that the meeting might be called off because of a dispute over money transfer issues between Israel and the PA. Fayyad had been widely reported to be unhappy about attending.
The missive from Abbas, published by The Times of Israel on Sunday, includes demands for Israel to cease building across the Green Line, release all prisoners and agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with possible small adjustments.
In the letter, some of which is markedly bitter in tone and questions Netanyahu’s commitment to a two-state solution, Abbas comes close to threatening to dismantle the PA in frustration at the diplomatic deadlock — as he has reportedly contemplated doing — but he refrains from making such a statement.