Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly turned down an American request that he meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a bid to jumpstart peace talks.
US Secretary of State John Kerry made the request of the Palestinian leader at their July meeting in Paris, the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds reported on Thursday.
Abbas refused the meeting, the newspaper said, according to a report by Channel 10 news, telling Kerry that he would only acquiesce after Netanyahu froze all settlement construction and released the last group of prisoners that were slated to be freed as a goodwill gesture in the 2014 peace talks.
In May, Netanyahu said he was willing “to meet President Abbas today in Jerusalem. If he’d like, in Ramallah. Right now. Today.” In April, Abbas told Israeli television Netanyahu is “the partner” for peace, and called on the Israeli premier to meet with him “at any time,” prompting Netanyahu to declare that his invitation stands.
Gershon Baskin, who has in the past acted as a conduit between the Netanyahu government and Palestinian officials, told JTA in May that Abbas offered three times to begin secret, direct negotiations with Netanyahu. Each time, Baskin said, Netanyahu refused. The Prime Minister’s Office subsequently denied the report, saying “Netanyahu continues to call on President Abbas to meet anytime, anywhere, without pre-conditions. Unfortunately, President Abbas has refused.”
In July, State Department spokesperson John Kirby said that the purpose of the July 30 meeting was “to talk about the prospects toward helping us create conditions for a two-state solution. There is a possibility that there could be additional bilateral meetings while in Paris… but the primary purpose is a meeting with President Abbas.”
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process collapsed two years ago, and progress currently appears unlikely before President Barack Obama’s final term ends in January.
In June, France convened a Paris meeting of world powers — without Israel or the Palestinians — to work toward organizing an international conference to reboot talks by the end of the year.
After June’s meeting, Kerry was lukewarm concerning the prospects of a conference. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the French initiative, which the Palestinians welcomed.
The Middle East diplomatic quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — urged Israel to stop building settlements and Palestinians to cease incitement to violence in a July report that drew a frosty response from both sides.
AFP contributed to this report.