Senior PA official: Netanyahu is not an extremist
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Senior PA official: Netanyahu is not an extremist

Nabil Shaath tells Israeli media that Jerusalem must free prisoners, freeze settlements before talks resume

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Senior Palestinian Authority official Nabil Shaath on Thursday called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a pragmatist who would be willing to enter talks with the Palestinians

Shaath, a close adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, also expressed his readiness to renew negotiations if Israel were to meet Palestinian preconditions. “If Netanyahu said he was ready to sit for negotiations based on the ’67 lines, we would sit with him tomorrow,” he said.

“I don’t think he’s an extremist, I think he’s a pragmatist,” Shaath said, speaking with Israel journalists in Ramallah.

He added that Israel would have to agree to a settlement freeze and release all 107 prisoners arrested before the Oslo peace process in 1993. Most of those prisoners have blood on their hands.

The Times of Israel reported that last year Netanyahu had offered to free 50 Palestinian security prisoners held since before the signing of the Oslo Accords, in a bid to get Abbas back to the peace table.

However, Abbas rejected the offer. Senior Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel that they would only agree to talk if all went free.

Abbas, for his part, did agree to meet with Netanyahu — but not as part of resumed peace talks. Rather, Abbas was willing to meet Netanyahu, after all the prisoners were freed, in order to make clear to Netanyahu, face-to-face, his terms for restarting the negotiations.

The PA is working to keep violence from breaking out against Israel in the West Bank, Shaath added Thursday.

“We are doing everything in order to prevent a violent uprising, but an intifada doesn’t need to be violent. It’s a reaction to the status quo.”

In 2011, Shaath indicated that a two-state solution was desirable because it would allow the Palestinians to push Israel to make further concessions. “At the end of the day, we want to exert pressure on Israel, in order to force it to recognize us and to leave our country. This is our long-term goal,” he said.

In the same interview, he appeared to insist on the right of Palestinians displaced in 1948 and their descendants to move to Israel. “We will never agree to a clause preventing the Palestinian refugees from returning to their country.”

Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report. 

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